- The US government issues Special Immigrant Visas to those who worked for US-backed organizations.
- The Biden administration inherited a backlog of more than 17,000 SIV applications.
- But it ignored pleas to rapidly process claims before the fall of Kabul in August 2021.
As an employee of a US-funded organization that promoted women’s rights, he was expecting to receive a visa allowing him and his family to escape Afghanistan long before the Taliban took over in August. But in a lawsuit filed Thursday, the man says he’s been waiting nearly two and a half years without a response — and that his two young children have now been forced into hiding after receiving threatening messages at their home in Kabul.
“Every day, I fear for the lives of my sons,” the man, identified only by his first name, Mohammad, said in a statement.
The lawsuit, filed by the International Refugee Assistance Project with the US District Court for the Northern District of California, accuses the US State Department and Secretary Antony Blinken of failing to fulfill their legal obligation to quickly process applications for Special Immigrant Visas, which are issued to those who worked for the US mission in Afghanistan.
Mohammad applied for that visa back in May 2019. Under federal law, the US is supposed to process such applications within nine months. But the Trump administration — which sought to limit all forms of immigration to the US — allowed a backlog of more than 17,000 applications to build up, its failure to process the claims ruled illegal after another lawsuit brought by IRAP.
An estimated 50,000 Afghans were ultimately evacuated by the US immediately following the Taliban takeover in August — months after refugee advocates had urged the Biden administration to begin airlifting them out. But many were admitted to the US on the basis of “humanitarian parole,” which denies them access to many of the same assistance programs available to SIV holders and refugees.
Mohammad is himself currently living in California. On a trip there in 2019, the lawsuit says, he learned that the Taliban had left threatening notes at his former home. He decided not to return, instead applying for asylum.
His wife and children were left behind. If he had received his visa, they would have been able to come to the US too. And that was the plan. But the visa never came.
In October 2020, the Taliban found his wife and children and threatened them. According to the lawsuit, his wife died of a heart attack soon after — leaving his children, ages 9 and 11, without a parent. They are currently in hiding and, per the lawsuit, the State Department made no attempt to evacuate them.
“Right now, my greatest wish is to hug my kids again,” Mohammad said. “I ask that the United States government stand by its promises to Afghans like me who supported the US mission, and protect the lives of my children.”
Alexandra Zaretsky, a litigation fellow at IRAP, said in a statement that the US has a duty to help those who are now at risk because of their connection to Washington.
“Tens of thousands of Afghan allies and their families were separated or left behind after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan,” she said, “and the US government has yet to take meaningful action to help them get to safety.”
A spokesperson for the State Department declined to comment.
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