Laurie Williams Sowby: Time is running out for Afghan refugees

Congress must pass the Afghan Adjustment Act.

(Gordon Welters | The New York Times) A C-17 aircraft arrives with some of the final people evacuated from Afghanistan, at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, Monday, August 30, 2021.

My husband and I serve as volunteers with the Geneva Office for Human Rights Education. As hosts with the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy, we frequently host foreign guests of the U.S. Department of State for dinner at our home when they visit Utah. We realize we represent our state and nation as well as our faith in our duties.

We hosted five provincial governors from Afghanistan for Iftar the last night of Ramadan in June 2017, and we hosted three judges from Kabul — two of them women — in early March 2020, just before the world came to a standstill because of COVID-19. On both occasions, we thoroughly enjoyed our interaction with these gracious and good people and could appreciate the value they added to their nation and the world.

They told us what the support of the U.S. meant to them in being able to live with peace and progress the past two decades. They also voiced their hope that Afghanistan would not be left alone to be devoured by the nations surrounding it.

In August 2021, as our troops pulled out of Afghanistan and chaos ensued under the Taliban, I received a desperate email from one of the provincial governors — the father of four — asking for help in relocating his family to safety in the U.S. I could not personally help him, but he was referred to someone who had that knowledge in the State Department.

Last I heard, his family was in Pakistan and were working on papers to emigrate. I hope they were successful. I don’t know what happened to the judges, but I imagine the worst.

There are so many important reasons to support the Afghan Adjustment Act (H.R. 8685/S.4787) and keep our promises to our allies, not the least of which is that these are our brothers and sisters. In our work to make people aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we understand that every principle enumerated in it goes back to the “Golden Rule,” which is a tenet of every major religion in the world. It ought to influence our decisions in government, our actions in the community, and how we personally view and interact with others.

As humanitarians and Americans, we should support those 76,000 Afghans who’ve arrived in the U.S. seeking asylum — one of their rights as human beings. They need permanent legal status, not just temporary “humanitarian parole,” as their protected status is currently defined.

Why offer them less than the same kind treatment and welcome that Ukrainian refugees have received since war suddenly disrupted their lives? There is room enough in this country for all who want to be here.

(To those who use “national security concerns” as an excuse, be aware that the Afghan Adjustment Act will require evacuees who apply for adjustment to undergo the same level of extensive vetting used for refugees, including an in-person interview.)

Those granted the two-year “humanitarian parole” are facing looming deadlines. They cannot have family members join them in the U.S. and may be deported if their temporary status doesn’t change within the ever-shortening time limit. The Afghan Adjustment Act would provide those with temporary status in the U.S. a pathway to legal permanent resident status, helping them escape an anxiety-ridden limbo and settle into meaningful new lives.

It is not without legislative precedent. Congress passed, with bipartisan support, similar acts for people fleeing conflicts in Cuba, Vietnam and Iraq after our involvement there. The many Afghans who served our country well for two decades surely feel abandoned as well as deceived by the United States.

In this season of demonstrating love and compassion for our brothers and sisters on this planet, Congress should not hesitate to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. Afghan refugees deserve our support as allies and as human beings of “dignity and worth.

Laurie Williams Sowby

Laurie Williams Sowby, a freelance journalist, has lived in Chile, Washington, D.C., and New York City as well as Utah and has traveled to 80 countries. She is a member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.