Afghan refugees in Chicago urge Congress to provide long-term immigration protections
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House, said she feels cautiously optimistic that the legislation will pass by the end of the year. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said there aren’t yet sufficient sponsors in the Senate to get the legislation passed — but that could change Election Day.
For about two weeks, Sidiqa’s teenage son hasn’t spoken to her because he thinks she doesn’t want to bring him to the United States.
The mother of four, who asked that only her first name be used, was among the thousands who fled Afghanistan in 2021 as the Taliban seized political power. In the chaotic departure, two of her sons were left in Afghanistan, she said.
“I’m trying day and night,” Sidiqa said through an interpreter. “I’m trying really hard to bring them here, but I can’t.”
She is among a group of Afghan refugees in Chicago who are calling on Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would create a pathway for Afghans to gain permanent residency. The group shared their stories with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Thursday at RefugeeOne’s headquarters in Chicago.
The proposed legislation would mean that Afghans wouldn’t get stuck in existing backlogs since many would otherwise apply for asylum, said Sarah Flagel, from World Relief, a refugee resettlement agency. It would create a task force to implement strategies for those in Afghanistan who are eligible for resettlement in the U.S.
At least 2,500 Afghans have resettled in Illinois since last August, according to state officials. Some were temporarily allowed to enter the U.S. through humanitarian parole.
Schakowsky, who is a co-sponsor of the bill in the House, said she feels cautiously optimistic that the legislation will pass by the end of the year.
“So many people risked their lives in Afghanistan in order to help the Americans in the conflict there so I think that we are more likely with Afghan refugees to get support in the Congress than maybe we are in other refugee situations,” Schakowsky said.
Durbin said there aren’t yet sufficient sponsors in the Senate to get the legislation passed, adding that that could change after Election Day.
“We don’t know how it’s going to go,” Durbin said about the upcoming midterm elections on Nov. 8. “And the majority could move and some may decide that they want to game the issue based on that result.”
Wahid Nasseri, an employment counselor at the resettlement agency RefugeeOne, is an Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holder who arrived in the States before the Taliban seized power. His brother, who worked with U.S. forces, was killed during a bombing in 2010, but his brother’s wife and children are still in Afghanistan awaiting resettlement to the U.S.
He said many newly resettled Afghans look for jobs but don’t know if they’ll be able to stay permanently in the U.S.
“How can they make a long-term decision for their families,” he said. “It is impossible for them to plan a peaceful future here when they are uncertain if they will be offered asylum or permanent immigration status.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.