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Wednesday, May 25, 2022
USC International Human Rights Clinic works to obtain humanitarian parole for Afghans
By Diane Krieger
When the U.S.-backed Afghan government collapsed last summer, Abdul B. made a desperate call to Chris F. in Texas, a U.S. Army veteran Abdul had worked with on an opium eradication task force in Afghanistan targeting Taliban-backed poppy farms. Once the Americans left, Abdul fled to Pakistan with his wife and their four children to escape retribution.
Penniless and undocumented, they’re in hiding, unable to leave the house unless absolutely necessary. Chris wired the family money and reached out to USC’s International Human Rights Clinic for legal aid.
The best option for Abdul’s family, according to IHRC acting director Henna Pithia (JD 2015) was to apply for humanitarian parole, which provides entry into the United States on humanitarian grounds for people who are otherwise inadmissible or ineligible. Often used in medical emergencies, it’s a temporary option when normal visa processing is unavailable.
“You’ll often see individuals with family members facing some sort of medical emergency use this avenue to get here quickly,” says Pithia, who was an asylum officer with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) before transitioning into private immigration practice in Canada and Southern California. She is currently a USC Gould visiting clinical assistant professor filling in for IHRC Founding Director Hannah Garry who is abroad on a Fulbright research grant.
With the Afghan government’s collapse, applications for humanitarian parole suddenly spiked in 2021. In a typical year, around 2,000 humanitarian parole applications are filed with USCIS.* Since August 2021, however, more than 40,000 have been filed by Afghan nationals alone.**
“What’s frustrating is that the method of accessing humanitarian parole has not been updated to reflect the current crisis for this particular community,” says Pithia. After Afghan applicants started applying for humanitarian parole, more USCIS officers were assigned to adjudicate applications, but existing backlogs put current wait times past the expected 90-day window.
Additionally, the documentation requirements for humanitarian parole are “extremely tricky,” Pithia says. Any change in Abdul’s family’s residence or income—which has happened several times—means the forms need to be revised. Other hurdles include finding a U.S.-based financial sponsor – in this case, Chris – and hefty $575 per person humanitarian parole application fee—almost $4,000 for Abdul’s family of seven.
Much of the documentation has been handled by 2L Steph Argent, who logged 20-hour weeks in December to prepare the original case filings. She is now assisted by 2L Sophia Dominguez-Heithoff and IHRC intern Claire Fausett, a USC undergrad majoring in international relations.
Despite a request for expedited review, as of March, the case remains in limbo. The clinic and the students continue to monitor the case, however there isn't much they can do currently, Argent says. Early in March, Abdul’s wife gave birth to their fifth child, requiring the IHRC team to quickly file another humanitarian parole application for the baby.
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