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Afghanistan evacuees in Kansas City face uncertainty in effort to stay in U.S.

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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 08, 2023
and last updated 2023-06-08 15:03:47-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Almost two years ago, the United States brought more than 70,000 Afghan evacuees to the U.S. as part of Operation Allies Welcome, hoping to help the people who helped in America’s longest war before the Taliban took control of the country.

Most came to the United States with a two-year humanitarian parole status. Now dozens of those families are in Kansas City and waiting for a way to stay permanently.

KSHB 41 News anchor Lindsay Shively sat down with a man from Afghanistan who says he came on humanitarian parole and is now in Kansas City. He asked to not show his face and be called “Khan” for his family’s safety.

He described a frightening journey to get to the airport in Kabul in 2021 with his wife and children.

“There were a lot of checkpoints that were created by the Taliban,” he said.

He said he served in the Afghan National Army for years and worked as a liaison with U.S. forces. KSHB 41 News confirmed he had previously come to Kansas and graduated from the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth.

He returned to Afghanistan he said and always planned to stay there until 2021.

With his two-year humanitarian parole just months from expiring, what were his options? He said he did apply for something called "Temporary Protective Status" and now has that, but for now, Afghanistan’s TPS designation is set only until November.

He said he is still waiting on his applications for Asylum and a "Special Immigrant Visa’." If approved, either would give him a way to stay permanently.

Jewish Vocational Service, a resettlement agency in Kansas City, says over 1,000 evacuees came to Kansas City from Afghanistan like “Khan” and their agency has been working to help 450 of them here on humanitarian parole.

JVS Executive Director Hilary Cohen Singer says that’s about 80 families. She said about a third have applied for a "Special Immigrant Visa" and they have been working to help most apply for asylum. She said most are still waiting with only two asylum cases and 4 SIV cases approved.

“They want to take advantage of any pathway that’s open to them to gain permanent presence in the United States because the prospect of having to go back to Afghanistan is so terrifying and unthinkable,” she said.

While many had been watching the clock tick on their humanitarian parole for months, just last month the Department of Homeland Security announced that Afghan nationals who qualify can apply for re-parole starting this month, but it won’t be automatic. It will be on a case-by-case basis.

“Khan” says he plans to apply for re-parole but that would also be temporary. He is hoping for a permanent way to stay in the U.S., fearing returning to Afghanistan.

“If my daughter would go back to Afghanistan, she would not have the opportunity to go to school, but the biggest concern is safety," he said. "If we were to return back to Afghanistan, we would not be safe.”

Last year, Sen. Jerry Moran (R - Kansas) joined as one of the co-sponsors of the Afghan Adjustment Act. It would, in part, give Afghan nationals paroled into the U.S. who qualify lawful permanent status after additional vetting. But it stalled in Congress last year.

“This is a moral issue. It’s a national security issue," Moran said. "Surely those two things can come together, and we can find enough support in congress to send the bill to the President’s desk.”

The Afghan Adjustment Act has not yet been reintroduced this session. When asked about the re-parole process, Moran sent the following statement:

“Extending the opportunity for Afghan refugees to renew their parole is a necessary but temporary fix," Moran said in the statement. "Our Afghan partners risked their lives and their families’ lives to support our troops in Afghanistan, and Congress should pass the Afghan Adjustment Act to provide Afghan refugees with a permanent, legal pathway to obtaining residency in the safety of the United States.”

Last year, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R - Iowa) voiced concerns including the vetting process for those thousands evacuated from Afghanistan. Sen. Moran has said his office and others were continuing to work on that.

“Khan” said he would be willing to be vetted again.

The bipartisan senate bill introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar also lists Sen. Roy Blunt as a co-sponsor.

Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver II (D - Kansas City) and Rep. Sharice Davids (D - Johnson County) are listed as co-sponsors on the house version of the bill.