Afghan refugees left in limbo as Congress fails to act on bill

The Afghan Adjustment Act would have cleared hurdles for Afghan refugees to avoid the threat of deportation and help them to gain legal status.
Published: Dec. 23, 2022 at 3:37 PM EST
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Despite support from both Democrats and Republicans, a measure to protect Afghan refugees from deportation and speed up their path to legal residency still hasn’t passed. It’s a blow for refugees who say they have faced long waits for processing paperwork as they work to call the United States home. Groups such as Human Rights First called it a “moral and legal failure.”

Supporters had hoped to attach the Afghan Adjustment Act to the omnibus spending bill which lawmakers passed late this week as they worked to stop a government shutdown. The Afghan Adjustment Act would help Afghan refugees access legal residency by expanding options for visas and cutting red tape. Both Republicans and Democrats who support the measure are blaming members of the Senate for stalling it.

“Across the rotunda, we are fighting an uphill battle to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act so that our allies who risked their lives to support our operations aren’t deported back to the same hell that 13 American service members sacrificed their lives to rescue them from,” said Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.). “This should not be a Herculean task. Yet Senators have the privilege of wrapping their hands around the neck of critical legislation and strangling it in back rooms.”

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) blamed one Republican Senator in particular.

“We should have included the Afghan Adjustment Act in the omnibus bill. But this is a bill that’s in the purview of the Judiciary Committee. And the key Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, absolutely refuses to bend on this,” said Kaine. “I don’t know why the senator from Iowa who is the lead Republican on the Judiciary Committee was unwilling to make this compromise.”

Grassley’s office did not respond to requests by the Washington News Bureau for comment. But earlier this year in a statement he cited concerns over vetting of refugees and resettlement.

He wrote, “Congress should not even begin to consider proposals related to sweeping immigration status changes for evacuees, such as an Afghan Adjustment Act, until the Biden administration, at the very least, guarantees the integrity of and fully responds to long-standing congressional oversight requests regarding the vetting and evacuee resettlement process. Anything less would be irresponsible.”

Grassley has iterated his concerns about the vetting of refugees to reporters earlier this week.

For Kaine, the issue hits home. His state of Virginia has been the site of an Afghan refugee center. Fellow Virginia Senator, Mark Warner, toured that site back in March. At that time, 300 Afghan refugees who fled the Taliban following the U.S. withdrawal were given temporary shelter inside the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Virginia.

Kaine expressed hope that next year, Congress will finally get the Afghan Adjustment Act passed.

“I’ll tell you something - these families are not going to face deportation. They came in mostly into this country under a two-year humanitarian parole. That two-year period does expire in September if we’re not able to do something to extend it. But, we’re going to find a way to extend it. The good news is, in the next Congress, the Judiciary chair will not be Chuck Grassley of Iowa. It’s going to be Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. He’s a Republican, too. But he supports the Afghan Adjustment Act. If you’re the lead Republican on a committee, you have the ability to block something. The lead Republican on the committee come January will be somebody who supports it, who isn’t going to block it. And we’re going to make sure and I know I’m speaking for the Biden administration... nobody gets deported without the administration moving to deport them. That’s not going to happen with these families. Now, it still leaves them in an uncertain status and uncertainty creates anxiety. We’ll do what we can in 2023 to lift that anxiety and make sure these families can stay.”

Advocates, such as Jawaid Kotwal of the Afghan American Foundation, have been rallying for his own family and for other refugees caught in the middle. He told Washington News Bureau reporter Jamie Bittner back in August that it’s time for the American public to get involved.

“I’m calling on the U.S. public to call in their senators their members of Congress and urge them to pass this into law,” he said.

Kotwal’s cousin was among those who left Afghanistan.

He said in August his cousin, “had an asylum interview so he needs to adjust his status and then bring his newborn son who was born actually days after the fall of the government. He hasn’t seen his child.”

As of last year, nearly 80-thousand Afghans were building new lives in the United States through Operation Allies Welcome.