The crisis in Afghanistan has faded from the headlines, but our Afghan neighbors, friends and colleagues here in Maine remain in anguish as their loved ones face torture and death at the hands of the Taliban.

Immigration Afghan Parole

Haseena Niazi, 24, an Afghan-born permanent resident of the U.S., holds her fiancé’s humanitarian parole denial notice from the Department of Homeland Security on Dec. 17 outside her home north of Boston. Her fiancé, whom she asked not be named over concerns about his safety, had received Taliban threats for working on women’s health issues at a hospital north of Kabul. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Mainers’ relatives served the U.S. mission in Afghanistan over the last 20 years and built meaningful ties to our country and citizens. Though some in Washington boast of the “unprecedented airlift” of Afghans at the end of August, that effort was insufficient, abandoning tens of thousands of our allies to be marked for death in a country devolving into chaos, famine and violence.

This is not a partisan issue. It is the honoring of a promise. And time is running out.

Those left behind include the indispensable front-line workers of the U.S. military-Afghan citizen collaboration: Afghans who worked as vital interpreters, trusted drivers for U.S. contractors and skilled airport mechanics. They helped organize elections, ran laundry operations at Bagram and supervised road construction so our military vehicles could safely pass.

A generation of Afghan children watched as their parents went off to work, proudly serving alongside U.S. troops and hoping to build a better world for their sons and daughters.

Now, displaced from their homes, children and their families cower in safe houses, no freedom in sight, fearing execution at the hands of the Taliban because of their affiliation with American forces. Some have already met that horrific fate, and our Afghan neighbors here in Maine suffer not only grief, but also a stinging betrayal.

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Since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, attorneys across the country, including those at the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, have been racing against the clock to save these abandoned families. Traditional immigration options failed to protect our clients, and so we scrambled to file humanitarian parole applications designed to protect those at immediate risk of severe harm. For the families of many Maine Afghans, humanitarian parole provides their only hope for survival.

We expected U.S. leadership would agree that this urgent humanitarian crisis – one they helped create – easily justifies the use of humanitarian parole. But at every turn we have been thwarted by the U.S. government’s obstructionist bureaucracy and disheartened by the lack of compassionate leadership. Instead of using its discretion to save lives, they came out with insurmountable evidentiary standards, disqualifying most Afghan applicants and dooming them to a life in hiding, at best.

As of mid-December, the government had received more than 35,000 humanitarian parole applications and granted fewer than 200. For those allies trapped inside Afghanistan, the government is signaling through denial notices that they must all find some other way to safety. But they do not have the luxury of time to wait while their other immigration applications continue to languish. Humanitarian parole should be providing them an expeditious legal pathway to escape mortal danger and make it safely to the United States.

This systemic failure affecting Maine’s Afghan community – and their relatives stranded abroad – can be remedied. ILAP and hundreds of other organizations have co-signed letters to President Biden and to congressional leadership detailing policy changes necessary to save lives. It is a moral imperative that we take action. Our proposed actions include:

• Create a special Afghan parole program to meet the large-scale, urgent needs required during this crisis.

• Employ broadly the government’s discretion to grant Afghans parole.

• Establish a consular processing plan for Afghan nationals inside Afghanistan.

Please join me in calling on U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden to join forces on this nonpartisan, broadly supported effort to push the administration to save our Afghan allies. Share with them your compassion and concern to help rectify this spiraling disaster.

We dishonor the service and sacrifices made by our own troops when we leave behind those who served alongside them. Let us show our allies and those who love them that they were right to believe in the power of the American promise.


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