Star Tribune

By Maya Rao

Nearly two years after the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan, most of the 80,000 Afghans evacuated by American forces still have no path to citizenship here — a status that Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others are trying to change.

The U.S. government granted Afghan evacuees humanitarian parole for two years, and the Biden administration recently began allowing Afghans to extend that status for another two years. But that offers no way to apply for permanent residence. 

"They live in uncertainty or in limbo," said Sufi, an evacuee who recently was granted asylum and works as a communication guide with the refugee organization Alight in Minnesota. Because of his concern for family still in Afghanistan, he asked to only be referred to by his surname. "It's really difficult for people to make healthy decisions in their life when their future is unknown."

Klobuchar made a renewed push to allow Afghans to apply for citizenship if they pass a rigorous vetting process as part of the Afghan Adjustment Act she reintroduced this month with bipartisan support and the backing of major veteran groups. Klobuchar, a Democrat, is co-sponsoring the measure with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., along with five other Republicans and five other Democrats.

Many Afghans vouched for by top military leaders "took bullets for us, literally," Klobuchar said on the Senate floor last week. "And we must stand by them. The decision we make for them of whether we live up to the covenant we made to our Afghan allies is going to reverberate militarily and diplomatically for longer than any of us will serve in this body."

She noted that the U.S. did not leave Hmong and Vietnamese people in limbo when they evacuated them. Generations later, she noted, Hmong people have become police officers, elected officials, firefighters and "pillars of our community."

Klobuchar said in an interview that she's working to get more Republican support in the Democrat-controlled Senate, because that will help the legislation in the House, which is narrowly controlled by the GOP.

The Afghan Adjustment Act would require Afghans applying for permanent legal status to have an in-person interview as part of the vetting process. It also would expand the Special Immigrant Visa program to cover more Afghans allied with American forces. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, of Arkansas has introduced a competing bill called Ensuring American Security and Protect Afghan Allies Act that would screen Afghan evacuees in the U.S. and give them a four-year conditional resident status while they are being vetted.

"They can't go back — they'd be killed by the Taliban," Klobuchar said of Afghan evacuees. Noting support from dozens of retired generals and leaders of armed services committees, she added, "It is really a military priority."

Micaela Schuneman, senior director of immigration and refugee services at the International Institute of Minnesota, said many of the agency's clients are anxious and confused about why they don't have an avenue to citizenship. The institute is helping Afghans apply for extensions of their temporary humanitarian parole status, she said, but they ask, "Why can't we apply for something permanent?"