Advocates Release FOIA Data, Seek Transparency for Thousands of Afghans Seeking Humanitarian Parole and the Extensive Delays They Are Facing

March 16, 2023
Last modified: 
March 16, 2023

WASHINGTON—Today, the American Immigration Council (The Council) and International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) released government records documenting the extensive delays experienced by thousands of Afghans who filed for humanitarian parole since the United States’ chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) produced the documents in response to a lawsuit filed by the Council and IRAP under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Read a summary of the FOIA findings.

Read reactions from Afghan humanitarian parole applicants and advocates.

During those final days of U.S. military presence, the Taliban rapidly gained control of Afghanistan, killing civilians and prompting many Afghans to flee their homes for safety. As the U.S. military departed the country, many Afghans who were left behind in danger—as well as their families and friends in the United States—turned to the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) humanitarian parole process for safe passage to the United States. Thousands of Afghans who could not reach the United States in the weeks following the withdrawal were forced to apply for humanitarian parole by filing applications with USCIS.

Unfortunately, the documents obtained through the FOIA request demonstrate that USCIS was not prepared for the thousands of applications for humanitarian parole the agency received from Afghan nationals, leading to massive delays in the adjudication. While USCIS prioritized humanitarian parole applications in the immediate lead up to the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, internal documents suggest that as of August 25, USCIS had not developed a plan for Afghan parolees who were not part of the evacuation process.

“These documents show the stark reality of Afghan nationals seeking humanitarian parole. Records gathered thus far demonstrate that USCIS was woefully unprepared to process these applications and the agency implemented a prolonged pause in the adjudication process. Additionally, documents show that the agency scrapped plans to waive the application fees that make this process cost-prohibitive for so many recently arrived Afghan families,” said Raul Pinto, Senior Staff Attorney, American Immigration Council. “The delays caused by the agency’s failures have devastating, real-world consequences for families who face grave danger.”

Government statistics received as part of the FOIA request show that from January 1, 2020 to April 6, 2022, USCIS received 44,785 applications where the applicant’s country of citizenship was Afghanistan, but only approved 114 of those applications. This bottleneck of applications essentially foreclosed this benefit as a potential option for those Afghans who could not reach the United States, many of whom remained in Afghanistan.

“The U.S. government collected over $19 million in fees from the Afghan community for humanitarian parole applications that it seemingly has no plan or desire to adjudicate,” said Mariko Hirose, Litigation Director at IRAP. “The government owes an answer to the community for its failure.”

Jeffrey Kessler, Co-Executive Chairman of the law firm Winston & Strawn LLP, represents the Council and IRAP in litigation against USCIS that forced the agency to produce the documents and comply with the FOIA. “The firm is proud to represent these dedicated immigration advocates in their fight to shed light on the injustices brought upon Afghan refugees and we stand ready to continue to support the legal rights of both these advocates and the immigrants for whom they speak,” said Kessler.

Summaries of the records including a chronology of events are here. A copy of the FOIA requests are here. Reactions to the data from Afghan applicants and advocates are here.



For more information, contact the American Immigration Council:

Brianna Dimas at [email protected] or 202-507-7557.

Media Contact

Elyssa Pachico
[email protected]

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