Lawmakers make last-minute push to include residency path for Afghan evacuees in omnibus package

Senate lawmakers from both parties are making a last-minute push to include a pathway to permanent legal status in the U.S. for evacuees from Afghanistan who were brought to the U.S. after the withdrawal in 2021.

An amendment introduced Wednesday by Democratic Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Republican Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran would create a path to residency for Afghans who were paroled into the U.S. in the wake of the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Tens of thousands of Afghans were released into the U.S. under a process called humanitarian parole — created by Congress to be used on a case-by-case basis for reasons of significant public benefit or urgent humanitarian reasons. The instrument was used to avoid the special immigrant visa process and U.S. refugee admissions process, both of which can take years to complete. 

Advocates, including some veterans groups had called for the Afghan Adjustment Act, to be included in the omnibus spending bill before Congress, as evacuees’ status is due to expire next year.

‘We are convinced that the Afghan Adjustment Act furthers the national security interests of the United States,’ a group of 30 retired military leaders wrote in a letter addressed to congressional leadership. ‘It is also a moral imperative. Congress must act now.’

However, the bill was not included in the initial omnibus spending bill. Lawmakers including Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, have expressed concerns about the abuse of humanitarian parole and have highlighted issues related to the vetting of Afghans into the U.S.

A DHS inspector general report earlier this year found that ‘did not always have critical data to properly screen, vet, or inspect the evacuees.’

‘As a result, DHS may have admitted or paroled individuals into the United States who pose a risk to national security and the safety of local communities,’ the report said.

FBI Director Christopher Wray had told lawmakers that the agency was ‘actively’ investigating individuals who had been deemed national security threats after a whistleblower told Republican lawmakers that 324 Afghans had appeared on the Pentagon’s watch list.

Fox News initially reported in February that at least 50 Afghan evacuees were brought to the U.S. in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan whose information indicated ‘potentially serious security concerns.’ The information came in a Pentagon inspector general report, which revealed that U.S. government officials were unable to locate dozens of those individuals who had ‘derogatory information’ that would make them ineligible for parole.

Advocates have said that the amendment would establish additional vetting requirements for eligible Afghans before they received green cards. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has repeatedly defended what it called a ‘multi-layered’ vetting process.

Lawmakers in both parties have said that the bill was necessary to support Afghans who had supported the U.S. operation in their country.

‘For two decades countless Afghans stood by our servicemembers and risked their lives and their families’ lives to support our troops in Afghanistan,’ Sen. Moran said in a statement last week. ‘Veterans of the Afghan War are now calling for Congress to provide safety and certainty for their allies and friends who assisted them in battle. We must answer that call and establish a pathway for our Afghan partners to begin a new life.’ 

‘This legislation will put a program in place to protect our national security while also keeping our promise to those who risked their lives for America,’ he said.

Immigration hawks have lobbied against the inclusion of such an amendment, warning that it legitimizes what they say is the abuse of humanitarian parole — which, despite its limited purpose, has also been used broadly by the Biden administration to allow Ukrainians, Venezuelans and other nationalities at the southern border into the U.S.

‘The Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan resulted in a huge number of evacuees who were impossible to properly screen,’ RJ Hauman, head of government relations at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, told Fox. ‘Not only that, they were admitted in violation of the ‘case-by-case’ authority for humanitarian parole. While proposals like this may have pure intentions, the botched resettlement of Afghans was not only unlawful, but poses serious national security and public safety concerns.’

The amendment is one of a number of immigration-related amendments that could be considered ahead of the $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill’s passage. Amendments related to per-country green card caps and a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors may also be considered. 

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