Haseena Niazi had staked her hopes for her fiancé’s departure from Afghanistan on a rarely used immigration provision.
Given the evidence he provided about Taliban threats he received while working on women’s health issues at a hospital near Kabul, the 24-year-old Massachusetts resident was almost certain his application for humanitarian parole would be approved by the US government.
However, the request was summarily denied this month, leaving the couple reeling after months of worry.
To the chagrin of Afghans and their supporters, federal immigration officials have issued denial letters to hundreds of Afghans seeking temporary entry into the country for humanitarian reasons in recent weeks. Immigrant advocates claim that by doing so, the Biden administration has broken its promise to help Afghans who were left behind after the US military withdrew from the country in August and the Taliban took control.
Since the United States’ withdrawal, US Citizenship and Immigration Services has received over 35,000 applications for humanitarian parole, of which it has denied approximately 470 and conditionally approved more than 140, according to Victoria Palmer, an agency spokesperson.
The little-known program, which does not provide a path to lawful permanent residence in the country, receives fewer than 2,000 requests per year from all nationalities, with the USCIS approving an average of 500, she said.
Palmer also emphasized that humanitarian parole is typically reserved for extreme emergencies and is not meant to replace the refugee admissions process, “which is the typical pathway for individuals outside of the United States who have fled their country of origin and are seeking protection.”
Meanwhile, the US government continues to assist vulnerable Afghans, having evacuated over 900 American citizens and residents, as well as another 2,200 Afghans, since the military withdrawal. The State Department stated that it expects to assist in the resettlement of up to 95,000 Afghans this fiscal year, a process that will include rigorous background checks and vaccinations.
However, many of them had been whisked out of Afghanistan before the Americans left. Now, USCIS is dealing with a new influx of humanitarian parole applications and has increased staffing to handle them.
According to the agency, requests are reviewed on an individual basis, with priority given to immediate relatives of Americans and Afghans airlifted out.
While the USCIS stressed that parole should not be used in place of refugee processing, immigrant advocates argue that it is not a viable option for Afghans who are unable to leave their country due to a disability or are hiding from the Taliban. Even those who are able to flee Afghanistan may be forced to wait years in refugee camps, which many cannot afford.
Mohammad, who requested that his last name not be used for fear of his family’s safety, stated that his elder brother, who previously worked for international organizations, is among them. He has been in hiding since the Taliban came looking for him after the US withdrawal, according to Mohammad.
During a recent visit to the family home, Taliban members kidnapped his younger brother and held him for ransom for more than a week, he said. Mohammad, a former translator for US troops in Afghanistan who now lives in California with a special immigration status, is now attempting to secure parole for this brother as well. He’s hoping that a conditional approval letter will get them a seat on one of the few remaining U.S. evacuation flights out of the country.
In August, immigrant advocates began filing humanitarian parole applications for Afghans in a last-ditch effort to get them on US evacuation flights out of the country before the withdrawal.
According to Kyra Lilien, director of immigration legal services at Jewish Family & Community Services in California’s East Bay, it worked in some cases, and word spread among immigration attorneys that parole, while typically used in extreme emergencies, could be a way out.
For the time being, Niazi says her fiancé is living and working far from Kabul while they consider their options. They could potentially wait until Niazi becomes an American citizen, at which point she could try to bring him here on a fiancé visa, but that would take years.