In this blog post, AILA member Spojmie Nasiri shares insights and information about the situation facing Afghan evacuees and how we can help. She was interviewed by Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee Chair Ban Al-Wardi.
Please share your personal background and connection to Afghanistan.
I came to the United States as a refugee from Afghanistan in the early 1980’s as a result of the Afghan-Soviet War. During our long journey to the United States, my father, siblings and I were forced to leave my mother behind in Pakistan for about 8 years while she was stuck in the refugee process waiting for our reunification. This separation from my mother for an extensive period of time was extremely difficult and impacted me deeply as a young girl in a new country. As a result of these personal experiences, I always envisioned myself becoming an attorney, particularly an immigration attorney.
While in college at the University of California Davis, I met and married my husband. After graduation, my husband attended medical school while I attended Golden Gate University, School of Law. I had my first, second, and third child during the three years of law school. After law school, I volunteered for a few years at the Immigration Law Clinic at UC Davis School of Law and then opened my immigration law practice in 2011. I served as the President of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the San Francisco Bay Area for three years. Currently, I am a board member for the Afghan American Community Organization and also a board member for the International Orphanage Committee. In 2019, I founded the We Have Hope Foundation which is focused on translating Khan Academy math videos into Pashto to be used in Afghanistan.
Where do things stand regarding vulnerable Afghans now?
The circumstances for vulnerable Afghans are dire and catastrophic. It is unclear how people will be evacuated and how their immigration applications will be adjudicated. The evacuation of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents seems more realistic at this point. Securing humanitarian parole, SIVs, P1, P2, and P3s is quite challenging, as there have been thousands of these applications filed and we do not yet know the status of these pending petitions, or even if approved will provide individuals with a way out of Afghanistan.
One of the challenging issues at the moment is that even if the applications are approved, the beneficiary must be able to leave Afghanistan to obtain the boarding foil or visa in a third county. This is an issue because the Taliban have stated they will not allow people to leave Afghanistan. Reports indicate that some of those who have fled Afghanistan to neighboring countries have been deported and sent back to Afghanistan. Others are fearful of leaving their beloved homeland Afghanistan due to retaliation and possible death at the hands of the Taliban. Recently, there were 20 Afghan pilots who escaped to Uzbekistan and were facing deportation back to Afghanistan. However, the United States government intervened and came to an agreement with the government of Uzbekistan to parole the pilots into the United States. The future will tell whether the Taliban will allow individuals to leave Afghanistan. If third party countries will agree to issue visas and allow people to remain in their country for extended time, there may be some realistic opportunities to escape the wrath of the Taliban. But this has been the most serious challenge so far, particularly when countries like the United States have closed their consular operations in Afghanistan.
What does immigration to the United States look like for the Afghan people seeking to leave their country now?
At this time processing of Afghan applications have essentially been halted at the National Visa Center (NVC). For the applications pending at NVC, the Department of State (DOS) has sent out emails stating applicants should make a request to transfer their applications to Doha, Qatar. At this time, no further instructions have been provided by DOS in regards to how an applicant will be able to travel to Doha for an interview or how long the process will take for an interview to be scheduled in Doha. We have to keep in mind that due to COVID, there are extensive delays at U.S. Embassies around the world and no further information has been provided in regards to the process for Afghan nationals. Also, when the pending petitions are transferred to Doha and interviews are scheduled, there is no available information on whether the Taliban will allow these individuals to travel to Doha as the Taliban have stated they do not want people leaving Afghanistan. These are some of the challenges that must be dealt with in the near future.
What challenges are those who have already been evacuated facing?
Reports from various sources indicate that many of the Afghans evacuated were not SIV applicants. In the coming months and years, we will have better understanding of the number of evacuees, as well as what form of relief they may be eligible for to adjust their status to that of a Lawful Permanent Resident. Parolees are not eligible for federal public benefits. Thus, going forward, we will have to see funding will be put in place for parolees to benefit from public benefits or other forms of financial assistance. Despite the many obstacles newly arriving Afghans will face in the coming months and years, there has been an outpouring of generosity and support for Afghans from every social fabric of our community and the government agencies who are providing resources to help those in dire need of legal, social, medical, and financial assistance.
In your opinion, does this crisis connect to the larger refugee crisis resulting from “forever wars” waged for decades?
War does create refugees whether it is in Afghanistan, Central America, Iraq, Africa, or anywhere else in the world. Over the course of the 20 years of war in Afghanistan, the U.S government promised they would stand by the thousands of Afghan translators and their families as they stood by our troops and now we have failed on this promise. The United States and the international community has a legal and moral obligation to fulfill the promises made to the hundreds of thousands of Afghan allies who served, in good faith alongside the U.S. military. This crisis in Afghanistan is indeed connected to the larger refugee crisis as Afghans who in good faith relied on the U.S. government promise to protect them now must fend for their lives against the Taliban. For those who were fortunate enough to be evacuated, they will nonetheless endure years of hardship and difficulty in adjusting their status from that of a refugee to that of a legal permanent resident of the United States.
How can AILA members best help?
AILA members have been extraordinary and on the forefront of this crisis from the beginning. Our first AILA call attracted approximately 50 people and during the second call, we had nearly 800 AILA members interested in providing services to the Afghan community. AILA members have been able to pick up where the governments have failed. Many of them have stepped up to take on pro bono humanitarian parole cases, while others have volunteered in so many other capacities. Some have even traveled to the various bases on the East Coast in order to provide their legal expertise and services. In particular, the AILA leadership has been extraordinarily supportive as they have worked night and day to advocate for our clients and provide up to date information to our members. In the coming months and years, AILA members’ services and support will be crucial to the influx of Afghans seeking to adjust their status in some legal manner.