Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, former combat interpreter Nasib, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, has been confined to a safe house.
Nasib is among around 18,800 Special Immigrant Visa applicants who were stuck in a State Department backlog before the U.S. withdrawal. After the Taliban ransacked his home and threatened his family’s lives, Nasib’s rent, food, and other costs have been covered by U.S. nonprofit organization Flanders Fields.
Seeking a speedy way to bring Nasib to safety, Flanders Fields helped Nasib and his family members apply for humanitarian parole visas. Nasib’s first application was denied because U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services claimed a box was left unchecked, though Flanders Fields’s president, Ben Owen, denies this allegation. With Nasib’s second application, Flanders Fields applied for a waiver of USCIS’s $575 per-person application fee, as Owen explains that Nasib is "absolutely indigent and living on donations raised by Flanders Fields." Determining that Nasib’s sponsor, Owen, makes too much money, USCIS rejected the waiver.
Nasib’s third application included $5,000 in filing fees. As Owen says, this money "could have been used to house or feed" other endangered Afghan families Flanders Fields is assisting. "We don’t have endless funds," he continued. "In fact, we run out of funds every day because the need is so [great]."
Though USCIS has received around 30,000 applications for humanitarian parole visas in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal, processing has been slow. A USCIS official tells me the number of officers working on the influx of cases has increased "nearly five-fold," and the agency "has conditionally approved humanitarian parole for more than 120 Afghan nationals outside the U.S."
Evacuation groups are more concerned about the growing number of rejections USCIS has issued in passing weeks.
Axios has reported that a 2017 USCIS manual allowed provision of parole to "individuals who are facing fear of harm due to generalized violence." But many rejections of Afghan applicants came with a request for "documentation from a credible third-party source specifically naming the beneficiary and outlining the serious harm they face." Up in arms, a group of 225 aid organizations says that rather than using USCIS's "wide discretion…to grant parole," the U.S. is "abandoning tens of thousands of Afghans to die by cutting off their last available pathway to refuge."
A USCIS official did not respond to questions about what additional threat criteria is necessary for provision of humanitarian parole, given the manifold threats Afghan allies and activists face from Taliban reprisals, Taliban oversight of international aid distribution, and a mounting food crisis.
Owen remains uncertain whether Nasib’s humanitarian parole visa application will be accepted or whether the U.S. government will return its "interest-free loan" if the application is denied. USCIS had no response to questions about what will transpire with filing fees the agency has collected from the applications, estimated to be more than $17 million.
Meanwhile, Nasib waits for a resolution to his perilous situation. His children cannot play outdoors because of the Taliban threat. Should Flanders Fields run out of funds, as they have on several occasions, Nasib’s source of food and safety will disappear, and he will be left to the Taliban’s nonexistent mercy.
Beth Bailey (@BWBailey85) is a freelance writer from the Detroit area.