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Opinion: USCIS must waive fees for Afghan refugees

August 26, 2021 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose


This guest column was written by Cathryn Miller-Wilson, the executive director of HIAS Pennsylvania.


Updated to replace a link. (August 27, 2021 at 10:57 a.m.)
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.

We have witnessed in the last few days that helping the military is not enough.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. A major barrier to that application must be dismantled first, however.

We need USCIS to waive all fees for this critical ticket out.

Solidarity gathering in North Philly.

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 the close cultural web of Afghan society, while not eligible for status here in the US, are in the crosshairs 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 (AILA), has quickly mobilized to prepare hundreds of humanitarian parole applications on behalf of Pennsylvania residents from Afghanistan, but the barrier in the form of a fee of $575 per application has become an insurmountable roadblock for some.

Our Afghan families are newly arrived themselves and 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.

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Imagine, for just one family with 22 relatives — one of whom was executed by the Taliban yesterday 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 Afghans such as these 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 in the form of fees. We are therefore demanding, given the current situation that was created by our government, that USCIS 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 USCIS waive fees for Afghans who are fleeing for their lives. We owe them at least that.


Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs

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