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Fear, hiding and frustration for Afghans left behind a year after US evacuation

A year has now passed since former army captain Jeff Trammell began exchanging text messages with his former Afghan interpreter in the middle of the night in a bid to get him and his family on one of the last flights out of Kabul as the US and the Taliban pulled out took control of the country.

“Cover up your daughters and stay in line,” he instructed them.

In the months since, the Department of Homeland Security has resettled more than 80,000 Afghan refugees, the vast majority of whom fled before the end of the US disengagement in September 2021.

But tens of thousands who wanted to leave stayed behind. Trammell’s interpreter is still in hiding and is too afraid to go outside for fear he and his family will be found and executed by the Taliban.

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“After the Americans left Afghanistan, I spent a year of my life as a prisoner. No work, no food,” Trammell’s interpreter told NBC News. At night, the family go up to their roof for their only breath of fresh air for the day, he said.

Trammell says his interpreter passed every step of the special immigrant visa process that would allow him to be evacuated to the United States, and the final step he must complete is an interview at an American embassy.

“The problem is that there is no embassy in Afghanistan,” Trammell said, noting his frustration that the US isn’t conducting such interviews remotely via Zoom.

For Afghans who have aided American forces but were left behind after the US evacuation, the past year has been one of fear, hiding and frustration as prospects of visas, let alone a flight, have faded.

For those who made it, lawyers say, their fate is still uncertain.

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The Biden administration took most evacuees on humanitarian parole, which allows for two-year residency and work permits. Congress has yet to pass a bill that would allow more evacuees to apply for visas that would put them on the path to permanent status and citizenship.

At a Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) legal aid center for refugees in Alexandria, Virginia, about 50 Afghans sought help last weekend over fears their ability to live and work in the United States could end in a year .

Although Afghans can apply for asylum in the US, which would open a path for them to permanent legal status, they face a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases from other asylum seekers. They can also apply for special immigrant visas because of their involvement with U.S. troops, but that process can take years, said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, LIRS president and CEO.

A spokesman for US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) said the agency is “streamlining the processing of applications for work permits, green cards and related services.” The spokesman also noted that USCIS has received over 2,400 asylum applications from Afghans evacuated to the US, of which 250 have been approved.

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“The United States has welcomed more than 80,000 Afghans as part of Operation Allies Welcome, offering them support and assistance as they begin their new lives in America — and we stand ready to welcome more Afghans, including those, in the coming weeks and months who are at overseas transit locations awaiting approval to enter the United States,” the spokesman said.

The Biden administration also granted all Afghans in the United States temporary protected status and temporarily blocked them from deportation. But Vignarajah said there is still uncertainty for Afghans who are steering the process to live and work permanently in the US

“It creates a source of fear,” Vignarajah said. She believes the Biden administration will not deport Afghans once their parole expires, but urges Congress to pass legislation that would give them security should another administration question their ability to stay.

After the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, followed by the long wait for asylum and special immigrant visas, Vignarajah said, “They don’t have full confidence that the US will deliver on its promises.”

Back in Afghanistan, those still trying to get to the US are largely denied humanitarian parole by the USCIS, which has stipulated that applicants must show they would be violently assaulted if caught in the by would remain under Taliban control. By June, 93 percent of Afghans still in the country who had applied for parole on humanitarian grounds had been denied, USCIS data said.

A USCIS official told NBC News that around 70 percent of pending humanitarian parole applications are from Afghans still living in Afghanistan, where the closure of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan is making it “harder to complete” some applications that might otherwise would be approved.

According to a senior administration official As of July, more than 70,000 Afghans who had applied for special immigrant visas before September 2021 were still in Afghanistan.

Trammell’s interpreter, who was applying for special immigrant visa status reserved for those helping U.S. troops, received an email from the State Department’s National Visa Center in July, telling him it had “all fees, forms and have received documents required prior to attending an immigrant visa interview.”

“Your petition is awaiting an interview appointment” at a US embassy or consulate, the email said – although the interpreter is currently unable to arrange such an appointment anywhere.

The USCIS official said Afghans would have to travel to a third country for an interview, but the interpreter feared he would be captured by the Taliban if caught trying to enter Pakistan.

Against all odds, he remains confident that he can give his daughters a future outside of Afghanistan and Taliban rule.

“What I have belongs to my daughters,” he said. “I’m so worried about her future. I don’t want to destroy my daughters’ future.”

Trammell said he knows a few single men who have served in American forces who have access to visas and have been able to leave Afghanistan more quickly. But his interpreter has pledged to stay with his family.

“You are my whole life. Without her, I have nothing,” said the interpreter.

In a statement, a State Department spokesman said: “We cannot comment on individual cases. More generally, all visas must be processed in accordance with U.S. law, which includes the requirement that immigrant (IV) visa applicants must biometrically sign their applications in the presence of the consular officer’ and certify the accuracy of the application by a U.S. consular officer’s presence oath taken.”

“Although we are currently unable to provide consular services to immigrant visa applicants, including special immigrant visas (SIVs), in Afghanistan, we continue to process SIV applications at every stage of the SIV process, including transferring cases to other U.S. embassies and consulates anywhere in the world where applicants can appear.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/fear-hiding-frustration-afghans-left-one-year-us-evacuation-rcna41406 Fear, hiding and frustration for Afghans left behind a year after US evacuation

Fry Electronics Team

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