WASHINGTON — A new bipartisan bill to give Afghans in America a path to permanent residency has a slim chance of garnering enough Republican support to become law in the near future.
The US brought in tens of thousands of people last year as part of its hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, but has not said it can stay.
The Afghan Adjustment Act, passed in August by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) with three Republican co-sponsors, is said to pave the way for permanent residency for more than 77,000 Afghans who have arrived in the US since last summer.
“Giving our Afghan allies — many of whom worked alongside our US military — a chance to apply for permanent legal status is the right and necessary thing to do,” Klobuchar told The Bharat Express News in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will give Afghans who submit to additional scrutiny a green card to live and work in the United States.”
The bill would also extend eligibility for so-called special immigrant visas to other high-risk groups still in Afghanistan, such as certain former members of the Afghan armed forces.
“These people have nowhere to go,” Bill told co-sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) to The Bharat Express News. “Their country has fallen into hell.”
But Graham acknowledged it would be difficult to win enough Republicans to get the bill through the Senate, saying his colleagues have “a legitimate concern” that Afghan nationals could pose a security risk.
sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), for example, argued that President Joe Biden’s administration had failed to vet the 80,000 Afghans admitted to the US last year. A Ministry of Defense Report from February said his records on 50 Afghan evacuees pointed to “potentially significant security concerns”.
“I think we need to start by figuring out who’s here and what their background is, and making sure people across the country know where these people have gone,” Scott told The Bharat Express News.
With the November midterm elections approaching, Republicans are more hostile to immigrants in general, with some describing them as invaders streaming through an insecure southern border. GOP governors have even sent buses and planes full of migrants to Democrat-run cities as a political stunt.
In August 2021, the Biden administration used a measure known as humanitarian parole to allow Afghans to enter the US for a period of two years. Officials ran fingerprints and details of evacuees in criminal and terrorism databases at military installations in Europe and the Middle East.
Parole is not recognized as an immigration status and does not provide a pathway to permanent residency. The main options for Afghans are asylum and special immigrant status, but these can be complicated and costly to achieve.
The Biden administration announced in March that Afghans are eligible for temporary protected status so that they do not have to return to unsafe conditions, but TPS does not guarantee permanent residence.
Proponents of the Afghan Adjustment Act — pointing to the fact that Afghans in the US may become ineligible for humanitarian parole or temporary protected status next year and may be deported — are optimistic about the prospects of the bill.
“Even if we run out of time this month, we have other options to make it happen,” said Chris Purdy, director of Veterans for American Ideals and Outreach at the nonprofit Human Rights First. “Passing this bill is a high priority for members in both houses. And every time we took this to Congress, we got more and more supporters. Passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act is not a matter of whether; it’s a matter of when.”
There has been less violence in Afghanistan since the US ended its withdrawal last summer, but the ruling Taliban are reportedly still targeting former military members and government officials, despite a declared amnesty. The government is accused of persecuting minority groups and imprisoning and torturing journalists, while women face restrictive new laws. The country is also experiencing an economic crisis, mainly due to frozen assets in the United States and other factors such as drought.
However, it is unlikely that the near future will see a critical mass of support for the protection of Afghan evacuees, and Republicans could take control of one or both chambers of Congress next year, making this even more difficult.
“I wish we could all conceptually agree that the people who are here have no place to go back, and that they were involved in a war that we were involved in for 20 years and how we treat them will say a lot about how people will fight us in the future,” Graham said.
On Thursday, a small number of supporters gathered outside Congress for the bill.
“Many if not all of those we advocate have made the ultimate sacrifice by endangering their lives by protecting democracy and helping our men and women in uniform,” Jawaid Kotwal, an Afghan American, told The Bharat Express News.
“So we owe it to them. We did it in the past, for Vietnamese and Kurds. So it is the moral responsibility of the U.S. government to protect these people, and those who have already made it, to give them a path and roadmap to citizenship.”
This article originally appeared on The Bharat Express News and has been updated.