NEW YORK – The U.S. Bishops’ Conference Migration Committee chair is calling for swift passage of federal legislation that would provide newly arrived Afghans an opportunity to become lawful permanent residents, saying it’s “both our moral duty and in our country’s best interest.”
A bipartisan group of six U.S. Senators introduced the legislation, the Afghan Adjustment Act, on Aug. 9. The legislation would help the more than 80,000 Afghan refugees who have resettled in the U.S. since last August when the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
Over that time the USCCB Department of Migration and Refugee Services, alongside Catholic Charities and other community-based partners, have helped resettle over 13,000 Afghans in the U.S. Auxiliary Bishop Mario Dorsonville of Washington, the USCCB Migration Committee chair, said that work “of encounter and accompaniment has only reinforced the need for this legislation.”
Dorsonville added in an Aug. 10 letter to Congress that legislation lifts the “cloud of legal uncertainty” that the Afghan refugees face, many of whom served alongside U.S. service members in Afghanistan, or are family members of those individuals.
“This service comes at a great personal sacrifice, as they now face the threat of persecution and even death if returned to their native Afghanistan,” Dorsonville wrote in the letter. “Unfortunately, their ability to remain in the United States permanently is severely limited under current law, even after an unprecedented effort to secure their relocation.”
“The Afghan Adjustment Act would address this defect, fulfilling our nation’s promise to these families, demonstrating the United States’ commitment to its allies, and reaffirming the importance of humanitarian protection,” Dorsonville continued.
The legislation would provide a new pathway for Afghans on temporary visas in the United States to apply for permanent legal residency by allowing them to undergo additional vetting for the opportunity to apply for permanent legal residency status. Currently, Afghans who have temporary status can only gain permanent legal status through the asylum system of Special Immigrant Visa process (SIV), which has a severe backlog and long processing time.
The legislation would also expand the SIV process, in part by broadening eligibility to include groups that worked alongside American forces such as the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command, and the Female Tactical Teams of Afghanistan.
The legislation was introduced by Democratic senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Chris Coons of Delaware, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, as well as Republican senators Roy Blunt of Missouri, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
Companion legislation is being led by Republican Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan, and Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon.
Klobuchar said it’s both “right and necessary” to provide the Afghans this opportunity.
“This bipartisan legislation will help provide these newly arrived Afghans who have sacrificed so much for our country with the legal certainty they deserve as they begin their lives in the U.S.,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “It’s important to do what we can to help our Afghan friends find stability, opportunity, and community in their new home.”
Graham said the bill would both protect national security and help the Afghan refugees.
“Most [Afghan refugees] have no place to go, and it is imperative that we protect our own nation while also not abandoning those who were there for us in the fight,” Graham said in a statement. “This is a complicated endeavor, and we will seek input from our colleagues as we try to move forward.”
To get his message across, Dorsonville echoed a USCCB Administrative Committee statement from March that stated: “What must always be in the forefront of our thoughts and actions is the fact that each and every person, including the newcomer, is a brother or sister to us all and a blessing to welcoming communities when given the opportunity to integrate.”
“In that same spirit, it is both our moral duty and in our country’s best interest to provide our new Afghan neighbors with a pathway to permanent legal status,” Dorsonville said. “For these reasons, we ask you to take up and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act without delay.”
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