The Struggle to Get Here

January 11th, 2022

“To be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal.” — Henry Kissinger

I know an Afghan family. I use the term “know” loosely. I have never met these people. I have never spoken with them. I was placed in contact with them by a friend of mine who worked for years as a peace activist in Afghanistan. The activist knows the mother/wife in the family personally. My friend asked me to be their “buddy”, and to help them in whatever way I can. I agreed to do that.

I don’t know exactly where this family is living. I don’t need to know. They are somewhere in Pakistan keeping an extremely low profile. Their fled from Kabul before the city fell to the Taliban. They cannot go back home, and right now they cannot go anywhere else. Their goal is to find a new home in a country that is safe for them. Pakistan doesn’t qualify.

I had a consultation with an immigration lawyer on Zoom yesterday. I wanted to find out how this Afghan family could come to the United States. The lawyer, a young woman in California, tried to explain to me what was available to them. There was a lot to take in, and the attorney was not terribly optimistic about their chances. She talked about the family applying for a humanitarian parole. This method of coming to the United States is described as follows:

“You may apply for humanitarian parole if you have a compelling emergency and there is an urgent humanitarian reason or significant public benefit to allowing you to temporarily enter the United States. Anyone can file an application for humanitarian parole. If you do not have an urgent humanitarian reason for your visit, you must follow the normal visa issuing procedures set by the Department of State.” – from the USCIS website.

This is probably easier than applying for refugee status. Getting refugee status (if the person is outside of the U.S) or asylum status (if that person is already within the borders of this country) is a total bitch. The individual applying for refugee or asylum status has to prove that he or she has been persecuted in their home country, or that their lives are in imminent danger if they should return there. The burden of proof is solely on the petitioner. The United States does not have to prove anything.

Two years ago, I sat in on a session of the Immigration Court in Chicago. A migrant that I had been trying to help was in court seeking asylum status. She was from Mexico, and she was living illegally in the U.S. with her children. She had a lawyer with her in court. The woman and her lawyer tried to convince the judge that her life was in danger if she returned to Mexico. Her boyfriend (the father of her children) had managed to run afoul of somebody higher than himself in the food chain of a cartel. The boyfriend fled, as did this woman and her kids. The woman pleaded with the judge, literally begged him, to give her asylum.

He refused.

The woman had not provided sufficient documentation to show that she was in danger. She also did not give a good enough cause for her potential persecution. The kicker with applying for asylum or refugee status is that a person not only needs to prove that they need protection, but they also need to show that they are being persecuted for five specific reasons: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. It’s not good enough that somebody wants to kill you. They have to want to kill you for one of those five reasons.

Asylum denials are often in the range of 90%+ at U.S. Immigration Courts. Who flees their country with documentation proving that somebody is out to get them? The cartels usually don’t send out signed letters to warn people that they are going to be murdered. I bet that the Taliban don’t do that either. It is often impossible to prove that a person’s life in threatened. Hence, the high denial rate.

The humanitarian parole does not have such a strict standard. However, this Afghan family in Pakistan still needs to show that their lives are at risk. The lawyer that I spoke with on Zoom indicated that the vast majority of humanitarian parole applications are being denied by USCIS. It’s the same story as with the asylum cases. The applicants cannot provide sufficient documentation to convince the U.S. government that they are in danger.

This family has already applied for humanitarian parole. Now they wait for their case to wind its way through the Federal bureaucracy. A lawyer told me today that they might wait a year for a decision, and the decision may very well be “no”.

How is it that the United States could fight a war in Afghanistan for twenty years, and now the Afghans who helped us are left twisting in the wind? There are thousands of people like this family I know. They are suffering. They have no idea what the future will bring. They have little hope.

The only thing that they did wrong was to trust us.

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