In the past weeks, we have seen tens of thousands of Afghans — men, women, and children — risk their lives every day to make their way to safety in the United States, after risking their lives for years helping the American military. People are now scrambling to save their own lives. One of the ways they can do that is to file applications for humanitarian parole so that they can escape to safety here in the United States.
However, a major barrier to that application must be dismantled first. Afghans need United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to waive all fees for this critical ticket out.
To understand 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 close cultural communities, while not eligible for status in this country, are in the cross hairs of the Taliban in Afghanistan because of the wide net they cast in targeting those who helped the United States. Realizing this, the Biden administration has made it clear that Afghans here who can establish the danger of other relatives stuck in Afghanistan can file applications for humanitarian parole as a stopgap measure to bring them out of danger and into safety.
HIAS Pennsylvania, working closely with the Philadelphia chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association, has quickly mobilized to prepare hundreds of humanitarian parole applications on behalf of Pennsylvania residents from Afghanistan, but the fee of $575 per application has become an insurmountable roadblock for some.
Newly arrived Afghan families are doing their best to settle into life in the United States, no easy feat at the best of times. Worrying about the safety of family members while trying to gather the fees necessary to save countless family members has been a huge source of anxiety. Imagine, for just one family with 22 relatives — one of whom was executed by the Taliban because he was a member of the former Afghan military — would need to raise $12,650 within just days, all to pay fees to a government that has said it recognizes that Afghans like them are in danger of losing the thing most precious to every human being: their life.
This is not the time to maintain barriers to access. The United States should immediately waive these fees. This is one piece of unnecessary red tape that would ease the burden.
The unimaginable is happening in Afghanistan right now, and the United States 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 today. Our staff attorneys and the many private attorneys donating countless pro bono hours are standing by. Demand that the United States waive fees for Afghans who are fleeing for their lives. We owe them at least that.
Cathryn Miller-Wilson is the executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia-based organization that provides immigration legal and social services based on the core Jewish principles of “welcoming the stranger” and “tzedakah” -- generosity, charity, and fairness.