Why the U.S. government should waive fees for Afghan refugees seeking humanitarian parole

Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania. (Courtesy of Cathryn Miller-Wilson)

Cathryn Miller-Wilson, executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania. (Courtesy of Cathryn Miller-Wilson)

Over the past several weeks, we have seen tens of thousands of Afghans risk their lives daily to make their way to safety in the United States — after risking their lives for years helping the American military.

But what we have witnessed in the last few days shows that helping the military is not enough. People are now scrambling to save their own lives.

One of the ways refugees can do that is to file applications for humanitarian parole so that they can find refuge in the U.S. However, a major barrier to that application must be dismantled first: We need the United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services to waive all fees.

Understanding the need for humanitarian parole requires a very brief and oversimplified explanation of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) status, which is available to an individual who helped the military and their immediate family member, defined as spouse and minor children only. This means that adult children, siblings, and countless others who form the close cultural web of Afghan society, while not eligible for status here in the U.S., are in the crosshairs of the Taliban in Afghanistan because of the wide net they cast in targeting those who helped the U.S.

Realizing this, President Joe Biden’s administration has made it clear that Afghans here who can establish the danger of other relatives stuck in Afghanistan may file applications for humanitarian parole as a stopgap measure to bring them to safety.

HIAS Pennsylvania, working closely with the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association (AILA), has quickly mobilized to prepare hundreds of humanitarian parole applications on behalf of Pennsylvania residents from Afghanistan, but the prohibitive fee of $575 per application has become an insurmountable roadblock for some.

Our Afghan families are newly arrived and are doing their best to settle into life in the U.S., no easy feat in the best of times. Worrying about the safety of family members, while trying to gather the fees necessary to save other family members, has been a huge source of anxiety.

Imagine: One family with 22 relatives — one of whom was executed by the Taliban this week because he was a member of the former Afghan military — would need to raise $12,650 within days, all to pay fees to a government that has said it recognizes such Afghans are in danger of losing their lives.

This is not the time to maintain barriers to access, in the form of fees or otherwise. We are therefore demanding, given the current situation that was created by our government, that USCIS immediately waive these fees. This is one piece of unnecessary red tape that would ease the burden.

The unimaginable is happening in Afghanistan, and the U.S. has the power to stop it. It has chosen not to. Offers of assistance from the private sector — attorneys, the hotel industry, landlords — are pouring in. All matters related to the safety and security of our citizens, our residents, and our allies at home and abroad should involve all of us working together. We need our government to do its part. Contact your legislators and the president directly and ask them to waive fees attached to humanitarian parole applications.

Our staff attorneys, and the many private attorneys donating countless pro bono hours, are standing by. Demand that USCIS waive fees for Afghans who are fleeing for their lives. At minimum, we owe them that.

Cathryn Miller-Wilson is the executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia-based organization which provides immigration legal and social services based on the core Jewish principles of “welcoming the stranger” and “tzedakah,” generosity, charity, and fairness.

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