Doctors, teachers, engineers and other Afghans who were forced to associate with the Taliban will now have a chance at asylum or visas after the Biden administration on Tuesday relaxed a terrorism-related designation, officials say government and documents reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.
The exemption will be applied on a case-by-case basis after a security check and should help Afghans who fled their country after the withdrawal of American troops and the Taliban takeover last August, as well as some Afghans who entered the United States earlier, Department of Homeland Security officials said.
Some can be flagged with the designation of terrorism for as little as paying their Taliban electricity bill, paying money to pass a Taliban checkpoint, or obtaining a Taliban-issued passport. Others may earn the designation for having worked as civil servants under the Taliban regime in the 1990s. Among them are Afghan citizens who have helped the US government. They must also be eligible for asylum, refugee or other immigration status.
Under Operation Allies Welcome, the United States has allowed more than 79,000 Afghans into the country since the Taliban took over last year.
Afghans, “including those who bravely and loyally supported U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan at risk to their security, should not be denied humanitarian protection and other immigration benefits because of their unavoidable proximity to war or their work as public servants,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas said in a statement.
In Los Angeles, a 49-year-old man who arrived in the United States decades ago was denied a green card last year because he was coerced into it when he was a student at the end of the years 1980, to help a group associated with the Afghan mujahideen, according to his lawyer, Stacy Tolchin.
He handed out flyers and stationary weapons, believing he would be hurt if he didn’t, Tolchin said.
Tolchin hopes his client will now be able to get a green card, as well as a chance to bring family members to the United States
“I’m going to cry,” she said. “It’s morally and politically right.”
US immigration law prohibits people who are members of a “terrorist organization” or engaged in “terrorism-related” activities from receiving refugee status or asylum.
Immigration advocates and some government officials have long said the law is too broad and could apply to situations not generally considered terrorism. Congress has authorized exemptions since 2005, and immigration officials have granted them to other groups.
The exemptions, according to US officials and documents, may apply to those who fought against the Taliban or the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, those who were employed as public servants during the Taliban regime from 1996 to the end of 2001 or after August 2021, and those who provided “insignificant or limited material support to a designated terrorist organization”.
“Due to the presence and control by the Taliban of public entities, roads and services, many people who lived in Afghanistan had to interact with the Taliban in ways that, in the absence of such an exemption , renders them inadmissible to the United States under U.S. law,” read a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.
The policy will not apply to those who have targeted U.S. or non-combatant interests, violated human rights, held high-level positions under the Taliban, or supported the Taliban. US officials believe the new exemptions could help those seeking special immigrant visas, which are issued to those who have helped the US government in Afghanistan.
“We remain committed to our Afghan allies and are processing special immigrant visa applications as quickly as possible, while always protecting our national security,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said in a statement.
The group Human Rights First has long said the provisions harm refugees unconnected to terrorism, including those from countries other than Afghanistan.
Anwen Hughes, director of legal strategy for the refugee program at Human Rights First, said implementing the exemptions would be key.
“It’s not like this is a sweeping waiver, but it does mean that where everyone agrees that people have been victimized by the unfair consequences of these laws, there’s now going to be a tool to bring them relief,” she said.
Los Angeles Times