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Opinion Don’t forget the Afghan refugees who need America’s support

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) speaks during a news conference at the Afghan Welcome Center at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle on Oct. 22. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
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The Biden administration has established a sponsorship program to help admit and support tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees, but too many Afghan evacuees, including some who helped U.S. troops and personnel, have been left without adequate support in this country or spurned altogether.

For many of the 80,000 or so Afghans who made it to the United States after the fall of Kabul last year, the challenges they face in acclimating to a new country are mounting. Thousands of others still in Afghanistan or nearby countries have been denied entry to the United States or wait in limbo. Congress could help but has not.

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Most Afghans who arrived here were airlifted from Kabul during last summer’s chaotic U.S. withdrawal, then housed in temporary quarters at military bases. They have since been resettled in communities across the country, but often without the financial and logistical support normally accorded refugees by the government. That’s because Afghans, including thousands who assisted our troops and risked their lives doing so over years, have not been granted refugee status — and because the Trump administration gutted the infrastructure for resettling refugees.

Around the United States, scores of private groups staffed by volunteers have formed to help. They have provided Afghans with funds, as well as assistance in forming community attachments, navigating red tape to apply for asylum and accessing government aid. That help has been critical, but it is a poor substitute for systematic government assistance. Aid to some Afghan refugees has run dry, leaving them unable to pay rent or facing eviction.

In March, the Biden administration offered temporary protected status (TPS) for 18 months to Afghan refugees who had already been admitted, a designation that can be and often is extended. It did so after announcing the same benefit for Ukrainians already here. TPS also comes with work authorization, but it provides no pathway to legal permanent residence or citizenship. Without those gateways, many Afghans are effectively stateless, unable to return to their country and uncertain of their long-term prospects in this one.

Meanwhile, there are tens of thousands of unluckier Afghans who did not manage to board a flight to the United States last summer. Many remain in Afghanistan, at risk from the Taliban; others are in nearby countries. About 45,000 have requested humanitarian parole to come to the United States, overwhelming Washington’s processing capacity. Only a few hundred have been approved; 2,200 have been denied, while the rest remain in limbo.

That raises a question: Why can’t the administration stand up a program for U.S.-based individuals and groups to sponsor Afghan refugees to come here, as it has done for Ukrainians? Or why can’t it streamline admissions processing for Afghans who helped U.S. personnel, escaped their country and want to come here? After all, many are as qualified as the refugees admitted en masse last summer.

Congress has not moved to grant a path to citizenship for Afghan refugees, as it did for Cubans after Fidel Castro took power, Vietnamese following Saigon’s fall and Iraqis after the wars in Iraq of recent decades. Many Afghan refugees, having worked side by side assisting Americans in a dangerous place, might now wonder whether they have a future in this country.

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