WASHINGTON — A new bipartisan bill to give Afghans in America a pathway to permanent residency stands a slim chance of winning enough Republican support to become law in the near future.
The U.S. brought in tens of thousands of people as part of its hasty retreat from Afghanistan last year but has not said that they can stay.
The Afghan Adjustment Act, introduced in August by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) with three Republican co-sponsors, would create a path to permanent residency for more than 77,000 Afghans who have arrived in the U.S. since last summer.
“Giving our Afghan allies – many of whom worked alongside our U.S. Military – a chance to apply for permanent legal status is the right and necessary thing to do,” Klobuchar told HuffPost in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will provide Afghans who submit to additional vetting a green card to live and work in the United States.”
The bill would also expand eligibility for so-called special immigrant visas to other at-risk groups still in Afghanistan, such as certain former members of the Afghan armed forces.
“These people have no place to go,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told HuffPost. “Their country has fallen into hell.”
But Graham acknowledged that it would be difficult to win over 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 instance, argued that President Joe Biden’s administration failed to vet the 80,000 Afghans admitted to the U.S. last year. A Defense Department report from February said its records on 50 Afghan evacuees indicated “potentially significant security concerns.”
“I think we need to start by finding out who’s here and what their background is, and making sure people around the country know where these people went to,” Scott told HuffPost.
As November’s midterm elections approach, Republicans have been more hostile toward immigrants in general, with some describing them as invaders pouring through an insecure southern border. GOP governors have even sent buses and planes full of migrants to Democratic-led cities as a political stunt.
In August 2021, the Biden administration used a measure known as humanitarian parole to allow Afghans to enter the U.S. for a two-year period. Officials ran evacuees’ fingerprints and records through criminal and terrorism databases at military installations in Europe and the Middle East.
Parole is not recognized as an immigration status, and it offers no road to permanent residency. The main options for Afghans are asylum and special immigrant status, but these can be complicated and costly to attain.
The Biden administration announced in March that Afghans would be eligible for temporary protected status, preventing them from having to return to unsafe conditions, but TPS does not guarantee permanent residency.
Advocates of the Afghan Adjustment Act — who point to the fact that Afghans in the U.S. could lose eligibility for humanitarian parole or temporary protected status next year and potentially face deportation — are optimistic about the bill’s prospects.
“Even if we run out of time this month, we have other opportunities to get this done,” said Chris Purdy, the director of Veterans for American Ideals and Outreach at the nonprofit Human Rights First. “Passing this bill is a major priority for members in both houses. And every time we’ve brought this to Congress, we’ve gotten more and more supporters. Passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act is not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.”
There has been less violence in Afghanistan since the U.S. finished its withdrawal last summer, but the ruling Taliban reportedly still target former members of the military 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, which is primarily the result of frozen assets in the United States, as well as other factors such as drought.
Still, the near future is unlikely to see a critical mass of support for protecting Afghan evacuees, and Republicans could take control of one or both chambers of Congress next year, which would make this even more difficult.
“I just wish we could all agree, conceptually, that the people who are here have no place to go back, and 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 with us in the future,” Graham said.
On Thursday, a small number of supporters rallied for the bill outside of Congress.
“Many of those we are advocating for, if not all, have made the ultimate sacrifice by putting their lives in danger protecting democracy and helping our men and women in uniform,” Jawaid Kotwal, an Afghan American, told Huffpost.
“So we owe it to them. We did it in the past, for Vietnamese and Kurds. So it’s the moral responsibility of the U.S. government to protect these people, and those who have already made it, to give them a pathway and road map towards citizenship.”