When tens of thousands of Afghan families were forced to leave their homes and their lives behind last year, Missoula opened its arms to welcome them. Here at Soft Landing, we have had the immense privilege of working alongside partners to help them navigate this extraordinarily difficult transition.
Over the last six months, Afghan families have bravely embraced new lives in Missoula.
They have enrolled in schools and started new jobs; started to learn English and passed driver’s education classes; and generously shared their culture through cooking classes, celebrations and youth programs. In just a short time, they have become part of the Missoula community.
And they have taken these tremendous strides without any certainty around whether they will be allowed to stay in this country for longer than their current temporary status allows. Lacking that certainty makes it incredibly difficult to put down roots – but in yet another display of resilience, they have tried.
All this progress, all this hard work on the part of Afghans to create a new future for themselves could be jeopardized if federal lawmakers don’t take action to guarantee them a path to permanent residency in the United States.
That’s why we are joining our local and national partners in calling on Congress to introduce and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act.
Who would be affected by the Afghan Adjustment Act?
At least 36,433 Afghan evacuees who have already been resettled in the United States or will soon arrive, do not have a path to permanent residency, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security presented to Congress. That’s more than 40 percent of the tens of thousands of Afghans who were airlifted from the country as part of the United States evacuation operation.
Some have relatives who already secured U.S. citizenship. Many were eligible for refugee status or special immigrant visas – a program that gives green cards to Afghans who worked for the U.S. government abroad as translators, fixers or in other capacities – but had to evacuate before they could apply or risk persecution from the Taliban. Others are family members of people with these special immigrant visas or refugee status, and they too would likely have been in danger from the Taliban.
These vulnerable people, many of whom courageously put their own wellbeing at risk by working for our nation’s government while war ravaged their home country, are in legal limbo. They were admitted to the country under a special condition granted by the Department of Homeland Security called humanitarian parole, which allows them to be here for just two years before the status expires.
Once it expires, though, they have no path to permanent residency. Congress has the power to change that, but has taken no steps to do so.
What is the Afghan Adjustment Act, and has it been done before?
Modeled after similar legislation crafted for Cubans, Iraqis and people from Southeast Asia, all fleeing dangerous situations, the Afghan Adjustment Act would allow those who arrived in the United States on humanitarian parole to apply for permanent status after one year.
Legislation like this would prevent them from having to apply for asylum, which would allow them to remain safely in this country. But applying for asylum requires navigating a system facing a backlog of more than 400,000 applications and a roster of attorneys not nearly large enough to meet the demand.
To be clear, the Afghan Adjustment Act would not be the same as the temporary protected status that the federal government announced on Wednesday it would grant to Afghans currently living in the United States. This status allows Afghans currently living in the United States, including those who arrived on humanitarian parole, to remain legally in the country for an additional two years while they wade through the murky, overburdened systems to gain permanent status, if deemed eligible.
About 40 percent of these people are believed to eventually be eligible for special immigrant visas, according to reporting from the New York Times, but for the remaining 60 percent, no path to citizenship or a green card is provided.
The Afghan Adjustment Act would give these families a fast track to a permanent life here.
What can we do here in Missoula?
At Soft Landing, we are truly here for the long welcome. We feel a responsibility to ensure that the people who came here seeking safety, hope and the same kind of future we all aspire to are able to pursue those dreams.
With that, we join the chorus of our community calling on federal lawmakers to take this step to introduce and pass the Afghan Adjustment Act.
We invite you to join the effort by learning more from other organizations doing this important work. Should you feel compelled, you can also call or write your representatives.
“Nations who in the past have granted entry to the victims of political or religious persecutions have never had cause to regret extending such asylum. These persons with their intellectual idealism and toughness will become worthwhile citizens and will keep this nation strong and respected as a contributor of thought and ideals.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower in a Congressional Address on immigration, 1970
Montana lawmakers in Washington D.C.
Senator Jon Tester: email here or call (406)-728-3003
Senator Steve Daines: email here or call (406)-549-8198
Representative Matt Rosendale: email here or call (406)-502-1435
Follow Lutheran and Immigrant Refugee Services (LIRS) for information on how to advocate for Afghan allies and language that can be used when contacting representatives