Afghans in U.S. await stability and immigration answers
A year after the fall of Kabul, Afghans who fled to the United States still face an uncertain future. Organizations such as the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy are now pushing for passage of the bipartisan Afghan Adjustment Act and a pathway to citizenship.
When Taliban insurgents took control of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, in August of last year, Bahroz Mohmand watched the news in disbelief from the United States.
The 33-year-old interpreter never expected to see his home country revert to Taliban control.
“I was surprised. I was pissed off. I was sad," Mohmand said. "It was a very difficult situation for me to basically calm myself down because I was worried about the family.”
Mohmand moved to the United States in 2012 under a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV), made possible by his work as a Dari and Pashto interpreter for the U.S. Army.
“I was born in war. I was raised in war. I never saw the good side of my country," he said. "The only time that it was good was basically when from 2001, when the U.S. Army came until, you know, August 15 that everything collapsed under the Taliban regime.”
He is now a U.S. citizen. But for many of the 76,000 Afghans who fled to the U.S. in the past year, their immigration options are more limited. Many fear eventual deportation, including Mohmand’s niece, 17-year-old Tahira Askari.
Askari described the chaos of her evacuation in her native language, Dari. Mohmand interpreted.
“Everything was falling apart. People were running around stores. You could see families getting desperate, separated from each other. Everybody was heading towards the airport,” she said.
Askari and her family boarded an evacuation flight to Qatar, then Germany and eventually reunited with Mohmand in Charlotte.
Mohmand says for Askari, life under Taliban rule is a foreign concept.
“Since she was born, she [had] never seen Taliban before,” he said. “She was born during the 20 years that the U.S. Army was in Afghanistan. Because of me working for the Americans, I put all their lives in jeopardy in Afghanistan.”
Askari and her family are now navigating a complex legal system. Measures like Temporary Protection Status and other humanitarian designations are only stopgap measures, explained Rebekah Niblock, an attorney at the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.
“That status is not permanent and it does not currently lead directly to permanent resident status," Niblock said. "There's no option to apply to adjust your status or a green card.”
Niblock hopes a revived version of the Afghan Adjustment Act could garner bipartisan support and provide relief for people like Askari. She said the act would help Afghans avoid an arduous asylum process that requires applicants to recount their most traumatizing life experiences.
Attorney Aine Ahmed said the U.S.government will also need to address its backlog of immigration applications. He said the asylum process has proven long and difficult for the 18 pro bono cases he has taken on through Catholic Charities in Charlotte.
“The Department of Homeland Security will not even acknowledge that they've received their applications,” Ahmed said. “It causes a lot of anxiety because asylum claims must be submitted within a year of you entering the country. A lot of these individuals arrived in August of last year.”
If Askari, who is represented by the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, is able to adjust her status and establish herself in the U.S., she dreams of becoming a journalist.
“I want to help the ones who can’t speak up, who can’t raise their voice, who can’t basically explain their situation or there's nobody to deliver their message,” Askari said.
Niblock views it as a moral obligation to find solutions for the tens of thousands of Afghans in the U.S. who are stuck in limbo.
“I feel we have a duty to help the Afghans who were able to escape," Niblock said. "And there's still many there that need to be evacuated based on the years that they served, helped serve our country and Afghanistan.”
For now, the Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has launched a pro bono legal aid program to assist with Afghan asylum applications.