Posted on September 10, 2021

Biden Administration Seeks New Law to Ease Afghan Refugees’ Path to Green Cards

Michelle Hackman and Siobhan Hughes, Wall Street Journal, September 8, 2021

The White House is asking Congress to pass a law providing green cards for the tens of thousands of Afghans the Biden administration evacuated from Kabul and is bringing to the U.S. on temporary humanitarian grounds.

The proposal was included in a funding request the White House sent to Congress on Tuesday, asking lawmakers to provide $6.4 billion toward the Afghan refugee resettlement effort. That money would fund operations on U.S. military bases, where refugees are being housed and processed, as well as resettlement benefits for the Afghans once they arrive in the U.S. and speed up the processing of their immigration paperwork.

The requested legal fix, which would allow all Afghan refugees brought to the U.S. to apply for a green card after a year, would provide a solution for the legal quandary the Biden administration created when it began bringing tens of thousands of Afghans to the country without a permanent immigration status.

The administration has said that only a small share of those entering the U.S. qualified through the Special Immigrant Visa program, intended for Afghan interpreters, drivers, embassy workers and others who directly worked for the American military and U.S. contractors, along with their family members. Those Afghans are considered particularly at risk after the Taliban swept into Kabul in August and regained control of Afghanistan.


While Republicans have been broadly supportive of Afghans who worked for the U.S., the proposal to give green cards to a broad set of the evacuees has prompted fresh criticism {snip}

“ Joe Biden left behind thousands in Afghanistan who already have American citizenship, green cards, or pending visas, but now he wants to award unlimited green cards to people who didn’t serve alongside our troops and who may even threaten our safety and health—all while exempting them from the normal refugee screening process,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), a veteran whose office said he’s helped hundreds of Afghans evacuate. {snip}


Without a change in the law, the Afghans entering outside the formal SIV program would need to apply for asylum or another permanent immigration status, such as a green card through a U.S. citizen family member.


Creating a new pathway for Afghans also could place new burdens on an immigration system that is plagued with yearslong backlogs and understaffing. It could also pull resources away from other immigration programs. As part of its funding request, the administration asked for $193 million to hire additional staff at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that issues green cards.