Thousands of Afghans who evacuated their country following the U.S. withdrawal last year and the precipitous fall of the Afghan government have since lived in fear of deportation, particularly those paroled into the United States with no clear immigration pathway. But on Wednesday, the Department of Homeland Security announced temporary protected status (TPS) for 18 months for any Afghans residing in the U.S. as of March 15.
“This TPS designation will help to protect Afghan nationals who have already been living in the United States from returning to unsafe conditions,” DHS Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said. “Under this designation, TPS will also provide additional protections and assurances to trusted partners and vulnerable Afghans who supported the U.S. military, diplomatic, and humanitarian missions in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.”
This comes after DHS issued a similar TPS designation earlier this month to Ukrainian, Sudanese, and South Sudanese nationals living in the United States in response to their countries’ continuing wars and violence.
In the aftermath of the Taliban takeover and chaotic airlift in August of last year, more than 76,000 Afghans arrived in the United States. Upon arrival, the vast majority were given two years of humanitarian parole as an urgent legal option to enter American soil, but did not have a path to lawful permanent residency. They are now spread throughout the country, with many in Virginia, California and Texas.
Almost half of the refugees may adjust their status through a special immigrant visa (SIV) program that permits Afghans and Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. government to permanently settle in the U.S. But according to a Department of Homeland Security report, 36,433 non-SIV Afghan evacuees have no clear route to permanent legal status, leaving them in a vulnerable position that might eventually result in deportation.
Advocacy organizations have been urging legislators to introduce and pass legislation that would allow Afghans currently on humanitarian parole in the United States to become lawful permanent residents in the United States. The campaign has also included efforts to get temporary protected status for Afghans to save them from being deported if they are unable to modify their status before their parole expires.
A country may be designated for temporary protected status when conditions in the country fall into one or more of the three statutory bases for designation: ongoing armed conflict, environmental disasters, or extraordinary and temporary conditions.
Advocates welcomed DHS’s decision and said it is a significant step forward for Afghans who have been living in uncertainty in the United States for the last several months. “Given the original intent and purpose of TPS, it was absolutely necessary for Afghans in the United States,” Joseph M. Azam, the board chair of Afghan-American Foundation, an advocacy organization for Afghan refugees, told HuffPost. “It could serve as a backstop for tens of thousands who have resettled after being evacuated last year,”
“Our immigration system is outdated and overwhelmed, adjusting status can take years and people fall through its cracks all the time. TPS offers a measure of protection against that devastating potential outcome,” Azam said.
TPS also benefits thousands of other Afghans who were in the country before the evacuation as students or in some other capacity and have not departed.
Since TPS is a temporary remedy, it does not fully alleviate Afghans’ anxiety and uncertainty about their future in the U.S. To put Afghans on a route to permanent residence and, ultimately, citizenship, a long-term legislative solution is required. Advocates have proposed the Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA), which would enable all Afghans in legal limbo to become lawful permanent residents after a year. However, there has been little movement in Congress on the issue.
“Of course, TPS is not enough because it’s temporary and the only just and acceptable result here is for Afghans to gain permanent status in the U.S. through something like the AAA,” Azam said.
According to the DHS statement, those who attempt to travel to the United States after March 15 will not be eligible for TPS, meaning tens of thousands of people trapped in Afghanistan and other countries hoping to reach the U.S. in the coming months or years will not be included by the designation.