In the middle of the night on Sept. 11, 2021, I awoke from fitful sleep to check my WhatsApp account. I had just picked up a new client — an Afghan ally who served as an interpreter with the U.S. Army, who was now on the run from the Taliban. I wanted to make sure he was still alive.
This not my M.O. I am an immigration attorney in private practice, working part-time because of young kids at home. My caseload usually consists of 20-somethings renewing their Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals applications and work permits, couples interested in marriage-based green cards, and a handful of employment-based petitions. I keep a very strict work-life balance.
But amid the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan, an old high school friend reached out on behalf of her church in Texas: an Afghan in San Antonio needed help for his cousin in Kabul.
Twenty years ago, that same high school friend and I sat in math class together, watching live coverage of the destruction of the twin towers. Since then, I hadn't been touched by the "Endless War." Frankly, I never dreamed that on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I'd be totally consumed, personally and professionally, by the plight of a person I'd never met being hunted by the Taliban half a world away.
My client, like thousands of others, served as an interpreter for U.S. and allied forces. In 2016, he applied for a Special Immigrant Visa to the U.S. for himself, his wife and children. Five years later, the process had stalled out. While the underlying petition was approved here in the U.S., the family's visas are stuck in a State Department black hole called "Administrative Processing."
I am no stranger to the delays and red tape of our antiquated immigration system. His is not my only case taking five-plus years to be approved. But his is the only case where life and death hang in the balance.
So I filed applications for Humanitarian Parole ("HP") for my client and his family. HP is a limited, emergency travel document for someone who doesn't have any other immediate means of coming to the U.S. It is not meant to circumvent normal immigration routes, although it may be used as a shortcut if the applicant's situation demands immediate relief. If granted HP and allowed to enter the U.S., my client and his family could immediately apply for permanent residence on the basis of their already-approved Special Immigrant Visa petition.
The application is straightforward with a set procedure: 1) You must have someone in the U.S. file the paperwork — a volunteer from the church, in this case. 2) You must have a U.S.-based financial sponsor — another volunteer from my friend's church. 3) Each application costs $575, and we had seven to submit — the church generously covered all costs. And we requested expedited processing due to my client's desperate situation.
Since the Taliban took power, they have been to his home and to several of his hiding places, often just after he had fled. More recently, they called his cellphone and told him to report to the police department. He threw away the SIM card and fled to another city, leaving his wife and kids behind. The Taliban told his wife they would kill him. Since then, at least four friends and family members who did report to the police station have been found dead.
Expedited processing is the holy grail for HPs, usually taking two to four weeks. But we'll only know whether expedited service was granted if we get the HPs sooner than 90 days. My client doesn't have 90 days.
And this is why I'm writing: to alert others to what this man and his family are going through, because of his support of our government. Our government is not doing enough to help.
Our little international team consists of my client in Afghanistan, my friend and her husband doing relief work abroad, the church and its volunteers in Texas, and my tiny practice in Minneapolis. As a source of hope and support, we are powerful. But in the face of the Taliban's ruthless revenge-seeking, and the seeming incompetence of U.S. bureaucracy, we are helpless.
Please, contact your members of Congress and tell them this is unacceptable. People are dying.
This morning, I again woke up early to check my WhatsApp account. Sometimes my client sends pictures of his new baby, born in the midst of the Taliban takeover. Today, he sent a picture of a relative who had served as an interpreter for the U.S. Army, murdered last night by the Taliban.
Abigail Loesch is an immigration attorney in private practice in Minneapolis.