JThe Biden administration will now allow Afghans in the United States to apply for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a designation that would protect them from deportation for 18 months, grant them a work permit and allow them to travel .
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) estimates that 72,500 Afghans already in the United States will be eligible for TPS. It will not affect Afghans trying to gain access to the United States who remain abroad, and does not guarantee permanent stay in the United States for those already here.
“[TPS is] yet another short-term band-aid for a population that needs and, frankly, deserves some protection,” says Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, President and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), a resettlement organization refugees. “Our nation made a promise that we would protect them in exchange for their service and sacrifice, we cannot put an expiration date on that promise. And we cannot let them be subject to the whims of future administrations.
When the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, it began evacuating thousands of Afghans. Ultimately, nearly 80,000 were evacuated and allowed to remain in the United States under a designation known as humanitarian parole. DHS first announced it would begin offering TPS to Afghans on March 16, but first had to go through a process of publishing the designation in the Federal Register. This publication arrived on Friday, opening the door to TPS for Afghans.
TPS does not offer the same benefits as refugee status, including a permanent path to residency in the United States. But it can offer a temporary solution to a looming crisis: Afghans’ humanitarian parole status is only valid for two years. It would take an act of Congress to adjust their humanitarian parole status so they can apply for a pathway to citizenship. Without it, many Afghans are likely to find themselves pursuing asylum claims, which would put them in the middle of the clumsy immigration court system that is already backlogged with more than 1.6 million cases as of January. Allowing Afghans to apply for TPS allows them to stay longer in the country with the ability to apply for asylum.
Read more:Tens of thousands of Afghans who fled the Taliban are now stuck in the broken US immigration bureaucracy
But as their name suggests, TPS protections are temporary. For Afghans who have been in the United States since March 15, TPS will protect them from deportation for 18 months. It is at the discretion of DHS to decide which countries to add to the TPS eligibility list — Afghanistan joins 13 other countries, including Ukraine, South Sudan and Haiti — and when or whether to let it expire. benefits. In some cases, DHS has extended TPS protections for decades, renewing the designation each time the expiration date approaches, a cycle in which advocates fear ensnaring Afghans.
“It’s a temporary status, so there’s no security for people,” says Robyn Barnard, senior refugee protection policy adviser at Human Rights First, an advocacy and research organization. “Constantly living in those 18-month windows is really not fair and sustainable.”
“We are going through a trauma”
Humaira Rasuli, a human rights lawyer and Afghan woman who evacuated the country during the US withdrawal and now resides in Virginia, says she is one of the lucky ones. Not only did she receive humanitarian parole, but she also qualified for a special immigrant visa allowed for certain Afghan nationals for working with U.S. forces, which puts her on the path to citizenship.
But there are still thousands more in the United States who have not received the same protections, she says, and thousands more abroad who are at risk, including members of her family. . “For those of us who are overseas…we have feelings of guilt,” she says. “We are among the few who are protected and safe, and the majority of Afghans, especially women, are not safe.”
Rasuli says she has found a welcoming home in Virginia, but her parents and sisters remain in Afghanistan. Their attempts to join her in the United States have so far failed, and the new ability for Afghans in the United States to apply for TPS does not help those who remained in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or fled to other countries and submitted applications to enter the United States on humanitarian parole. “All the time we go through trauma, one trauma after another,” Rasuli says. “You are constantly afraid that something is going to happen. Believe me, if my parents don’t write to me in one day, I already feel like they are kidnapped or hurt.
United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that processes humanitarian parole applications for Afghans overseas, is behind schedule in processing tens of thousands of applications. And so far, Congress has failed to pass more permanent protections for Afghans. The Afghan Adjustment Act would allow Afghans on humanitarian parole in the United States to apply for permanent residency. The bill enjoys bipartisan support, but most recent efforts by supporters to tie it into a new $40 billion aid package for Ukraine have failed.
For now, the TPS has become the last stopgap measure. “While TPS is a welcome safety net, it doesn’t mean we should keep kicking the road,” says Vignarajah of LIRS. Every time Congress “fails to act on this, it’s a further extension of the anxiety that our new Afghan neighbors face.”
More Must-Have Stories from TIME