The conflict in Afghanistan is one of the longest wars in U.S. history, spanning almost 20 full years from 2001 till 2021. After two decades of fighting, the Taliban has again returned to power and toppled the Afghanistan government. As a result, many Afghans have turned to the U.S. for help, seeking asylum into the country with the help of immigration programs and refugee assistance projects.
Unfortunately, these services have been hit with multiple delays and bureaucratic problems even before the return of the Taliban to power.
The Special Immigrant Visa program was created as part of the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009. It gave Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) to Afghan nationals that met certain requirements, such as being employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan. It was designed to help people who were experiencing an ongoing serious threat as a consequence of their employment.
Charities such as No One Left Behind made extensive use of SIVs to help Afghan and Iraqi interpreters resettle in the U.S. However, the Special Immigrant Visa program has faced substantial criticism since its inception. Now that Afghanistan’s government has collapsed, the program has started to drown in a flood of applicants. According to an interview with James Miervaldis, chairman of No One Left Behind, there are roughly 20,000 applicants to be processed and around 10,000 Afghans left in limbo.
But according to Julie Kornfield, a senior staff attorney at the International Refugee Assistance Project, these problems have existed for many years. Kornfield attributes the program’s issues to a lack of proper staffing, training, and funding. This has led to disastrous effects on the efficiency of the program and also the safety of many of her clients. Kornfield describes one client that she started representing in 2017. The client had been in the SIV process since 2010 but was tragically murdered in January of 2021 before the process was completed and they were successfully able to enter the U.S.
Kornfield describes the handling of the Special Immigrant Visa program as chaotic. The program has been given no priority and decisions have been delayed on deciding who to protect. With a lack of proper organization, it has made it difficult for legal advocates to help their clients through the SIV program.
In early August, the Biden Administration announced a Priority 2 (P-2) designation that grants certain Afghan nationals and eligible family members access to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program if they were at risk of being targeted by the Taliban. However, Kornfield criticized this as giving her clients false hope. Two weeks after the program was announced, there is still no clear guidance on how people can apply for the program or be admitted to it. As far as Kornfield is aware, there have been no referrals made as of mid-August.
With days left before the August 31st deadline to evacuate Americans and their Afghan allies from Afghanistan, the fate of those still mired in the SIV program paperwork remains a tense uncertainty.
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