How the United States can rebuild its refugee system

JThe historic evacuation of more than 76,000 Afghans from Kabul to safety in the United States starting last August was one of the few positives of the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan. A month after most US government sites housing evacuees closed, the Biden administration announced plans to house up to 100,000 Ukrainians and others fleeing Russian aggression. While the main route to security provided under the Uniting for Ukraine program will be humanitarian parole, up to one-fifth of the 100,000 pledged people fleeing Russian aggression may seek safety through the US program of admission of refugees.

The Afghan relocation effort, known as Operation Allies Welcome, was the largest evacuation event since the Vietnam War and ushered in innovations that advance the refugee admission and integration model in the USA. These program models were not permitted under the existing refugee resettlement program, which has seen limited innovation since its introduction in 1980. They deliver on the promise of a more effective program, with more grassroots support and more opportunities for people, including the private sector. , to play their part.

For example, IRC’s humanitarian experience in over 40 countries has taught us that assistance works best when funding is provided directly to families in need. With Operation Allies Welcome, the Biden administration is beginning to provide modest cash assistance to Afghans who have settled in communities, rather than having resettlement agencies purchase items on their behalf, allowing Afghan families to tailor assistance to their own specific needs.

We also know that technology is an essential tool in everyday life, but Operation Allies Welcome provided an opportunity to apply technology to resettlement in new ways. In close coordination with the Department of State and the Independence Fund, the IRC launched the Virtual Afghan Placement and Assistance (VAPA) program to support 2,500 Afghans who were unable to access resettlement services where qu they be, remotely.

Operation Allies Welcome enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support, with 37 governors on both sides of the political aisle guaranteeing that the emergency resettlement of these Afghans would be a success. This same bipartisan support is visible for those fleeing the war in Ukraine. As the evacuation operation draws to a close and newly arrived Afghans adjust to life in America, it is essential that the right lessons are learned to ensure that the refugee resettlement program is properly calibrated. to respond to future crises, including Ukraine.

There are three tasks now. The first is to regularize the status of Afghans to ensure that they can stay in their new communities. At this time, they hold “humanitarian parole” status, which is only a temporary solution that does not provide a clear path to legal permanent status in the United States. The Biden administration recently added another program, called Temporary Protected Status, which will allow Afghans to stay beyond the original date set for humanitarian parole on a renewable basis, an important signal that the US government does not want. not send them back to evil. However, both of these programs have an expiration date and Afghans will need to apply for asylum if they want to stay in the United States permanently. But the system for processing asylum claims is cumbersome and threatens legal limbo for those affected, especially if they end up being forced into the backlog of 1.5 million people in the immigration court system.

The best way to provide a sure remedy for Afghans to stay in the United States permanently is for Congress to pass legislation allowing Afghans to apply for permanent residency through an Afghan Adjustment Act. This would ensure that we avoid the surreal idea of ​​people being airlifted out of Afghanistan by the US military, and absent an act of Congress, the administration is limited to political remedies that are at better short-term dressings.

The second task is to lock in the innovation that underpins Operation Allies Welcome as part of a reset of the US refugee admissions program, serving Afghans, those fleeing Ukraine and others refugees around the world, numbering in the millions.

To highlight a few: cash assistance piloted in response to the Afghan evacuation should be made available to all refugees. Virtual case management should be a tool available nationwide, ensuring that no family is excluded from critical benefits and assistance upon arrival in the United States. Each resettlement office should host a publicly funded community sponsorship expert to support groups, such as families or churches, interested in supporting local resettlement or hosting a refugee. In the face of a national housing crisis, the U.S. government should allocate more funds to address rising housing prices and work with cities, counties, or cities to identify and rent apartments for refugees. Refugee skills should be recognized, including by dedicating funds to study barriers to employment for immigrants and refugees across the country.

The third task is to apply the lessons to those who qualify for refugee status along the southern border. The American will to host must not discriminate by nationality. The Biden administration should pursue the rollback of Title 42 — a policy that denies asylum seekers their legal right to seek safety in the United States — and invest in an asylum system that assesses every claim quickly and fairly. Ukrainians were granted a Title 42 exemption, demonstrating that a complete policy reversal is not only possible, but necessary to provide a pathway to safety.

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