U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has struggled to keep up with the surge in applicants to a little-used program known as humanitarian parole but promises it’s ramping up staff to address the growing backlog.
Afghan families in the U.S. and the immigrant groups supporting them claim the slow pace at which the immigration services is working is causing them alarm as approvals threaten the safety of their loved ones, who face an uncertain future under the hard-line Islamic government because of their ties to the West.
Of the more than 28,000 Afghans who have applied for temporary admission into the U.S. for humanitarian reasons since shortly before the Taliban recaptured Afghanistan, only only about 100 of them have been approved, as reported by federal officials.
“We’re worried for their lives,” says Safi, a Massachusetts resident whose family is sponsoring 21 relatives seeking humanitarian parole. “Sometimes, I think there will be a day when I wake up and receive a call saying that they’re no more.”
The slow pace of approvals is frustrating because families have already paid hundreds if not thousands of dollars in processing fees, says Chiara St. Pierre, an attorney at the International Institute of New England in Lowell, Massachusetts, a refugee resettlement agency assisting Safi’s family.
Each parole application comes with a $575 filing charge, meaning USCIS, which is primarily fee-funded, is sitting on some $11.5 million from Afghans in the last few months alone, she and other advocates complain.
Exactly how does the humanitarian parole work? It doesn’t provide a path to lawful permanent residence or confer U.S. immigration status. It’s meant for foreigners who are unable to go through the asylum or other traditional visa processes, but who need to leave their country urgently.
In the meantime, Afghans in the U.S. have little choice but to wait and fret.