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On Afghanistan and Immigration

Written by Valeria Arguelles

On August 30, 2021, the U.S. ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan, leaving the Taliban full reign over Kabul, the last major city to fall to the Islamic terrorist group’s offensive. [1] Although more than 120,000 people were evacuated to safety with the help of the U.S. military and the authorization of 6,000 troops to provide assistance in the Kabul airport, hundreds of Americans and Afghan allies were left behind. [2] Consequently, Afghans immediately began to explore their options for relocation, only to grow distressed with the stringent immigration laws set in place. The seemingly incomplete evacuation of foreign and domestic citizens left many questioning the United States’ withdrawal procedures. Considering a peace agreement had been enacted between the U.S. and the Taliban meant to guarantee the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops, why did the U.S. not increase its evacuation efforts to ensure refuge for all? [3] Although the U.S. proposed several endeavors to obtain this outcome, it is evident that the established laws were not effective enough to achieve it.

What Was Done to Help

In mid-July, a briefing was held with the Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources, Brian P. McKeon, and Afghanistan task force director, Tracey Jacobson, to discuss Operation Allies Refuge. This effort, enacted by President Biden, allowed for relocation flights for eligible Afghan nationals who had previously supported the United States, which included translators and interpreters that had worked closely with U.S. military personnel in prior efforts to increase security, such as in the multinational military mission in Afghanistan (ISAF). It additionally attempted to gather the contact information of U.S. citizens, green card holders, and people with valid U.S. visas or pending applications to be placed on a list for evacuation to the U.S. [4] Deputy Secretary McKeon claimed that the U.S. was “accelerating the processing of SIVs… by adding additional staff at the U.S. Embassy Kabul.” [5] These Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) were authorized under section 602(b) of the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, which stemmed from a court case where the plaintiff, a group of Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigration Visa applicants, filed a complaint against members of the Department of Homeland Security, alleging the delayed adjudication of SIV applications. [6] Fortunately, the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, enacted on July 30, 2021, created more flexible requirements to qualify for a SIV, reducing the minimum service time from two years to one. [7] This opened the window for Afghan allies that qualified under the circumstances to secure their visas.

Why it Wasn’t Enough

While these efforts did open the door to get Americans and Afghans to safety, the U.S. was unprepared for the chaos that erupted in Kabul’s international airport as it began its airlift operations. Taliban fighters dispersed through crowds of people trying to leave from the Kabul airport, and many Afghans complained that the Taliban soldiers harassed them as they sought entry to the airport. [8] As Afghan allies rushed to the airports, including those that had approved Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), the Taliban continued threatening, leaving most families unable to find shelter in the airport and with no option but to return home. There were also many cases of people lacking the required documents that would allow them to join the flights. Owners of such documents have been reported destroying them to erase any evidence of their connection to the United States in fear for their lives. Even in immigration, when people are fleeing for their safety, they do not think to bring certain documents with them as evidence of their persecution. These Afghans that have helped via translation work, mapping the geographical area for Americans over the past decades— these are the people who are the most fearful for their lives and who are wondering why the requirements for SIVs were not reduced earlier.

Exhausting the Resources

The options available to immigrants and migrants alike are applying for asylum or as a refugee. Asylum is granted to people who fear they will be persecuted on account of their race, religion, political opinion, belonging to a social group or nationality. For those already in the U.S. with a visitor visa, they have the option of filing for asylum within one year of entry. For Afghans without asylee status that have no way of arriving at the U.S. border, their eligibility requirements are more stringent.

On the other hand, to file as a refugee, you must reside outside of the U.S. Within the refugee program, there are three priority groups: Individuals referred by US embassies or the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), special humanitarian concerns, and family reunification cases (immediate family members of asylees that are already in the U.S.). [9] As of August 2nd, the U.S. announced a second priority group (P-2) granting certain Afghan nationals consideration for refugee resettlement. [10]

Currently, it already proves challenging to come to the United States either as a refugee or as an asylee. The primary issue perpetuating the difficulty of this process is that no procedure exists to make refuge in the U.S. a feasible option for many. With the eventual closure of the airport came the closure of the U.S. embassy. With no embassy to process cases, referrals take months to develop, leaving the remaining allies in Afghanistan with few options to pursue: flee their homes, go to third countries like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, or Kyrgyzstan and request humanitarian parole— an alternative which could instigate worse outcomes.

What does this mean for us?

I’d like to direct our attention to Ashis Nandy, an Indian philosopher, who is of the mind that “the surest guarantee of oppression is the inability to imagine alternatives.” In this war, which seemed more like a failed stabilization program, that has cost the U.S. more than 2 trillion dollars and has lasted more than 20 years, shouldn’t the U.S. have exited with a foolproof plan — one that acknowledged the assistance given by Afghan allies? It is our job as Americans to question whether the actions of our government were adequate and furthermore, to imagine what alternatives are accessible so that we can avoid our past mistakes in future endeavors. It is clear that much must be done in regards to improving evacuation efforts and granting considerable priority to those that have risked their lives to help the U.S. There needs to be a systematic change that gives people access to the refugee program without having to go through the U.S. Embassy, as well as increased efforts to process applications and use technology in a way that improves efficiency. Others have suggested that there be a greater amount of security vetting to bring more of these SIV applicants to the U.S.


[1] Who are the Taliban?, BBC Nᴇᴡs,, (last visited Oct. 27, 2021).

[2] President Joseph Biden, Remarks on the End of the War in Afghanistan (Aug, 31, 2021).

[3] Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan between the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan which is not recognized by the United States as a state and is known as the Taliban and the United States of America, Afg-U.S., Feb. 29, 2020.

[4] Briefing, U.S. Dept. of State, Briefing with Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian P. McKeon and Afghanistan Task Force Director Ambassador Tracey Jacobson with On-Background Q&A by Senior State Department Officials On Operation Allies Refuge (Jul. 21, 2021).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Afghan and Iraqi Allies Under Serious Threat Because of Their Faithful Service to the United States, on Their Own and on Behalf of Others Similarly Situated, et al. v. Blinken, et al. (D.D.C. and D.C. Cir. 2019) (No. 18-cv-01388-TSC and No. 20-5251).

[7] Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009 § 602, 18 U.S.C. § 1101.

[8] Saeed Shah & Gordon Lubold, Afghan Crowds Fleeing Taliban Face Tear Gas at Kabul Airport, Wᴀʟʟ Sᴛʀᴇᴇᴛ Jᴏᴜʀɴᴀʟ (Aug. 20, 2021), ​​

[9] U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. (2021, August 6). The United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) consultation and Worldwide Processing Priorities. USCIS. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from

[10] Press Release, U.S. Dept. of State, U.S. Refugee Admissions Program Priority 2 Designation for Afghan Nationals (Aug, 2, 2021).

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