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Afghan evacuees in the U.S. face uncertainty as humanitarian parole expiration looms

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Biden administration is working to help tens of thousands of Afghans remain in the United States after the Taliban took over Afghanistan two years ago. A temporary program allowed some of its citizens to come to the U.S. The White House just extended that program, but the fate of many Afghans is less than clear-cut. Texas Public Radio's Carson Frame reports from San Antonio.

CARSON FRAME, BYLINE: As the war in Afghanistan ended and the country devolved into chaos, Nangialy Nang worked alongside American troops at Kabul Airport trying to maintain a security perimeter.

NANGIALY NANG: I was active interpreter and working shoulder by shoulder with U.S. forces.

FRAME: The U.S. was in the middle of a massive airlift operation to evacuate vulnerable Afghans and foreign citizens.

NANG: I was in uniform, that - and I was on duty at Kabul. And my family was living in Kunar Province.

FRAME: Nang had a longstanding relationship with U.S. troops. He'd worked with them since 2007.

NANG: Same goals, same target and same achievement.

FRAME: And as the Taliban closed in, Nang and his family stepped onto an evacuation flight, too. They were among more than 124,000 people evacuated from Kabul in the final weeks of the war, including about 76,000 Afghans.

NANG: I had been told by my adviser, like, hey; we are leaving, and get your family here.

FRAME: Nang and many other evacuees were resettled in the U.S. under a temporary status called humanitarian parole, which protects them from deportation. It also allows them to work, rent apartments, get driver's licenses and enroll their kids in school. Nang and his family settled in San Antonio. But parole expires later this summer for most Afghan evacuees.

NANG: When your parole expires, it means that you lost everything, and you just - you'll be stay in the middle of the street. You'll be - get homeless.

FRAME: The Biden administration has announced a plan to extend parole another two years. It also said earlier this month that it will streamline the extension process. But Afghan evacuees may still fall through the cracks. Under the administration's plan, some will have their parole extensions considered automatically while others have to submit applications online and might need legal help to do so.

MARGARET COSTANTINO: So it's not going to be a slam-dunk clear pathway.

FRAME: Margaret Costantino directs the Center for Refugee Services in San Antonio. She says she expects to see a lot of confusion and panic from her clients.

COSTANTINO: There are a lot of people who don't read or write in any language, and they don't understand. I mean, it's complicated for everybody.

FRAME: The government is hosting events in a handful of cities to help with parole renewals, and advocates are trying to spread the word.

SHAWN VANDIVER: I hope that the processing times are swift. I hope that it happens quickly.

FRAME: Shawn VanDiver is the founder of #AfghanEvac, a coalition that has worked to relocate and resettle Afghans. Working with U.S. officials, the organization has developed a program to share information with Afghan community leaders. But VanDiver still feels a sense of urgency.

VANDIVER: I am really concerned about folks who aren't going to hear about this - people who are sort of isolated in their communities.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

FRAME: In a three-bedroom apartment in suburban San Antonio, Nangialy Nang watches evening television with his wife and eight children. A former interpreter, he now works full-time for a resettlement agency trying to reach those Afghans who may not understand the steps they need to take.

NANG: Because they're - most of them are saying that, oh, we've been work with the U.S. forces for the last two decades. And they brought us here, so that's on the U.S. government to take care of us.

FRAME: As for Nang himself, he hopes to get a green card so he can stay in the U.S. permanently. But for now, he's hoping to have his parole extended to keep his home, his job and his life going.

NANG: It's affecting everything - physically, mentally, everything.

FRAME: During our interview, Nang's 3-year-old interrupts and plops down next to her dad.

(Laughter).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

NANG: She said, asked me - open the door. Yeah.

FRAME: Not affecting her too much, though.

NANG: Yeah. She doesn't care. She doesn't care. She has a dad...

FRAME: (Laughter).

NANG: ...To take care of everything.

FRAME: He smiles at his U.S.-born daughter who basks in the attention. Nang has lived a life full of risk, but he finds this kind of uncertainty hard to tolerate. For NPR News, I'm Carson Frame in San Antonio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carson Frame | Texas Public Radio
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