We’re Abandoning our Afghan Allies


For the past twenty years, the U.S. military worked in Afghanistan and relied on the assistance of Afghan allies who supported them. Time and time again, Afghans saved American lives in Afghanistan in their joint efforts to oppose the Taliban

Now that the United States has left Afghanistan and the Taliban has taken over the country, the Taliban has been systematically tracking down Afghans who have any connection to the United States, along with their extended families. This includes anyone who worked for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, like translators and guides, anyone who worked for the previous Afghanistan government that partnered with the United States, and people who worked for American nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). These Afghan allies are now in danger because of their association with the United States. 

The U.S. evacuated some Afghans at risk while they were pulling out the military, but many of our allies were left behind and are stuck in danger. The Taliban has already killed many people who opposed them, and it does not appear as though they will stop anytime soon. Many Afghans are in hiding or fleeing to other countries. The United States has an obligation to protect our Afghan allies who were left in Taliban territory

I worked with my first Afghan humanitarian parole client in October, as I helped him apply for humanitarian parole for his relatives stuck in Afghanistan. Humanitarian parole is a temporary immigration program that allows noncitizens to enter the United States and remain here for one or two years, based on urgent humanitarian need. My client’s relatives are hiding from the Taliban, afraid for their lives, like so many people in Afghanistan these days. The Taliban almost found them two months ago, when Taliban members came to their neighborhood asking for them by name. Thankfully, my client’s relatives were able to flee. 

I quickly realized the humanitarian parole application process was stacked against my client. The process contains many requirements and steps that seem designed to prevent people from being able to apply for humanitarian parole. But we pushed through and filed his family members’ applications in November.  

Normally, the United States government processes humanitarian parole applications in about three months. Given the unusually high number of these applications since the Taliban took over Afghanistan, the government took a step back from processing them to build up its capacity. This delay was frustrating—as these applicants are in imminent danger—but understandable, at first. 

Several months later, we are still waiting for the government to decide these applications. It now appears as though the U.S. government is intentionally stalling the adjudication process to avoid approving humanitarian parole applications for our Afghan allies. 

Early in January, I received a text message from my humanitarian parole client that he lost a family member in Afghanistan. This is exactly what he had been fearing since the Taliban took over Afghanistan. This is exactly what he was hoping to avoid by applying for humanitarian parole for his relatives. He thought the United States would care enough to save his family, after he and his relatives worked for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Apparently not.

Coincidentally, I received this terrible news while I was in the midst of eight hours of printing another batch of Afghan humanitarian parole applications. The tragedy struck me hard. I can continue to help clients surmount the unnecessary obstacles in the humanitarian parole application process, but that will not be enough to save my clients’ lives if the U.S. government refuses to approve these applications. 

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) should immediately start approving our Afghan allies’ humanitarian parole applications. Not in a year, after the Taliban has found and killed many of these applicants. Now. We owe it to our Afghan allies.

Over 37,000 people have applied for humanitarian parole since the fall of Afghanistan. Rather than granting these applications willingly, out of gratitude and indebtedness to the Afghans who saved American lives, the U.S. government has been dragging out this process and making it more difficult than ever before to get humanitarian parole. As of January 18, 2022, USCIS had only adjudicated 600 of these 37,000 applications, and USCIS only granted 138 of them.

Normally, if USCIS does not think an application merits approval, they will first ask for more evidence before officially denying it. With recent Afghan humanitarian parole applications, however, USCIS has issued several denials without first asking for more evidence.

USCIS also recently implemented an unusually high evidentiary burden of proof that the applicant must overcome before they are deemed eligible for humanitarian parole. USCIS changed the rules of the game after these 37,000 Afghan allies filed their humanitarian parole applications.

USCIS is now asking for an unprecedented and unrealistic amount of evidence, a requirement that many immigration attorneys believe will enable USCIS to issue mass denials. USCIS’ website outlines the evidence they are looking for: “Documentation corroborating the claimed, specific risk of harm facing the individual. For example: Reports or other documentation from a credible third party source specifically naming the beneficiary and outlining the serious harm he or she faces and the imminence of this harm.” 

In other words, USCIS wants an applicant to provide an article from an NGO that names the applicant and describes how the Taliban is individually targeting that applicant. But people who are in hiding and fleeing the Taliban do not have this kind of evidence. That seems to have been the point of this requirement.

USCIS should stop applying these inhumane and unacceptable standards, and immediately start processing and granting more Afghan humanitarian parole applications, for several reasons. 

First, USCIS should do so for moral reasons. The United States chose to invade Afghanistan. The United States chose to partner with these Afghan allies. The United States relied on these allies for twenty years. These Afghans saved countless American lives. These allies’ lives are now in danger because of their association with the United States.

Second, for foreign policy reasons. Not helping these allies sets a bad precedent for the future. Potential future allies in other countries will see how the United States treats non-Americans, and they will be less inclined to support us in our future international endeavors. 

Third, humanitarian parole does not require much from the U.S. government, so there is no reason not to grant these applications and help these allies in danger. When people get humanitarian parole, they are not resettled by the government as refugees. Humanitarian parolees must find their own way to the United States, and they are on their own once they get here. Allowing humanitarian parolees to come to the United States is the least we can do to protect them from the harm we brought upon them.

Approving humanitarian parole applications is just the first step. The United States should go further to support our Afghan allies once they get to the United States by providing a way for these allies to become U.S. citizens, among other things. Congress could do this by passing an Afghan Adjustment Act, as Congress has similarly done in the past in response to other humanitarian crises.

After enlisting thousands of Afghans over the past twenty years to partner with the United States in Afghanistan, after these Afghan allies saved countless American lives, we have an obligation to help our allies escape the Taliban.

About the Author: Amy Godshall is a second-year law student at Cornell Law School. She and other Cornell Law students have submitted humanitarian parole applications for Afghans at risk under the supervision of Cornell Law School professor Stephen Yale-Loehr. Much of the information in this article comes from her own experiences with the humanitarian parole filing process and conversations with various immigration attorneys.


Suggested Citation: Amy Godshall, We’re Abandoning our Afghan Allies, Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y, The Issue Spotter, (February 14, 2022), http://jlpp.org/blogzine/were-abandoning-our-afghan-allies/.