This week marks one year since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. Over the last year, we have heard the harrowing stories of our clients’ escape from Kabul in the days after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. Men, women, and children fled the country, bringing whatever they could to escape to safety. Some were the only people from their families to make it to the United States, while others came with their entire family, seeking the safety and promise of a better life in the United States.
Since last August, we at the Clinic have seen the continued resilience of our new Afghan neighbors. These individuals and families have made Hampton Roads their home. They enrolled their children in school, learned English, started working, and began the long, slow process of rebuilding their lives after leaving everything behind. Our neighbors who were once professionals in medicine, law, education, and technology have taken on whatever job they can, but all with the hope that they can one day use their skills and talents here in the United States.
Unfortunately, the immigration journey for resettled Afghans is far from over. Resettled Afghans are facing a myriad of difficult and complex immigration processes in order to receive permanent status in the United States. Many are stuck in the backlogs of the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) process, a path to a green card designed for those who assisted the US military or international forces in Afghanistan. For those just starting the process, the State Department is taking approximately one year just to review the first step of their application. Others are applying for asylum, but face a backlogged and strained asylum system in order to receive an interview or a decision on their case. For others still, their only option for status when their parole expires will be Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which has no pathway to a green card. The recently-introduced Afghan Adjustment Act may be a ray of hope for permanent status, but only time will tell.
Those who are here continue to worry about their families back in Afghanistan. In the wake of the fall of Kabul last year, thousands of humanitarian parole applications were filed to help vulnerable Afghans, including those who assisted the US government, to flee the country and arrive safely in the United States. The vast majority of those applications have been denied, leaving thousands of people trapped in a dangerous and worsening situation.
In the face of this uncertainty, we are so proud to see how William & Mary Law students have continued to step up to support our neighbors. Law student organizations came together to collect items to donate to families who were on base at Fort Lee and Fort Pickett before they were resettled across the country. Since Fall 2021, students in the Clinic helped Afghan clients in a variety of immigration matters, including applications for humanitarian parole, applications for green cards based on their work with the US government, and applications for asylum. The Clinic is still waiting on decisions from these cases.
We have also seen the kindness and welcoming spirit of our greater Hampton Roads community. Afghan-Americans stepped up to volunteer as interpreters with the Clinic and helped refer their neighbors and loved ones to the Clinic for assistance. Churches and religious groups opened their doors to support resettled Afghans, including helping them apply for Clinic services, giving them rides to our office for appointments, and helping them with travel to Arlington for their asylum interviews. Local resettlement agencies have partnered with the Clinic to provide more people with representation and provide timely information to resettled families across Hampton Roads.
As a new semester begins here at the Law School, the Immigration Clinic continues our work to support and represent our Afghan neighbors. We are consistently inspired by the resilience of our clients and our students in the face of such a difficult year. We are hopeful for a bright future ahead for our clients, for their families, and our community, as we embrace the Afghan Proverb: “After every darkness is light.”