The Advocates’ Afghan Legal Clinic: Week One
Issues: Asylum , Legal Representation , Migrant Rights
Last week, The Advocates for Human Rights launched a free legal clinic for Afghans who were evacuated during the U.S. military withdrawal. Staff and volunteers will be available every week, helping individuals and families navigate their complex immigration legal options. Most people arriving from Afghanistan have temporary permission to stay in the United States and need legal support to ensure they do not face deportation in the future.
In a Minnesota hotel, the hallways are filled with the pitter patter of small feet exploring yet another temporary home. Afghan families are housed here while they await more permanent housing in Minnesota. Today, one hotel room holds The Advocates' weekly legal clinic. Eight people are crowded in the small room - three attorneys from The Advocates' staff, a clinic coordinator, an interpreter, two case managers, and an Afghan seeking legal advice. Donated diapers, dish soap, and toys fill every other available space in the room.
Many of the adults are parents of young children. Some families were evacuated together and are asking for help to sort out immigration applications that were abruptly halted when the U.S. Embassy closed in Kabul. Others have only photos of their spouses and children on their phones. They want to know how long it will take to be reunited in the U.S.
Several of the clients at the clinic worked with the U.S. military in Afghanistan and can apply for Special Immigrant Visas. Many had ed the multi-step application but are unsure of where they are in the process. In the haste of the military withdrawal and amidst fear of reprisal by the Taliban, many lost or disposed of key documents. During the clinic appointments, staff attorneys asked questions to put the puzzle pieces back together and plan the next steps on their legal journeys. Refugee and Immigrant Program Director Sarah Brenes explains, "In theory, many families should be able to easily obtain green cards. They are allies of the U.S. who were evacuated by the U.S. government." In practice, the path is more difficult. Important pieces of the paper trail are missing. Many evacuees are confused by the complexity of the immigration system.
Staff attorney Kim Boche says, "I heard from clients that the U.S. government helped them get out and connected them to some resources. They believe that their immigration case is being handled by the government, too. The disconnect is that if evacuees don't have paperwork, we don't know what applications may exist or have been approved. If they don't have the documents, we have to break the news that the process is going to be longer and more complex than they think."
Our staff and volunteers are ready to accompany Afghan evacuees on their complicated legal journeys. We need your help to make this happen. Please visit our Afghans Welcome page for ways to take action.