Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and 163 other organizations delivered a letter to President Biden, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, and Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas a letter requesting the redesignation, extension of TPS for Afghanistan. Read the letter as a PDF.
May 3, 2023
RE: REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE REDESIGNATION, EXTENSION OF TPS FOR AFGHANISTAN GIVEN RAPIDLY DETERIORATING CONDITIONS
Dear President Biden, Secretary Mayorkas, and Secretary Blinken,
The undersigned 164 organizations request an immediate redesignation of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Afghanistan given the rapidly changing and continually deteriorating country conditions. This redesignation is needed to immediately safeguard and stabilize thousands of Afghans who have arrived in the United States since the last TPS cut-off dates, including those brought to the United States on humanitarian parole through Operation Allies Welcome (OAW) and the U.S. Department of State’s relocation efforts. The urgent need for TPS redesignation has become acute as OAW evacuees face significant challenges in ensuring they may temporarily stay and work in the U.S. while also surmounting barriers to long-term paths for protection.
Due to worsening insecurity and violence from the Taliban and various armed groups; an economic and humanitarian collapse exacerbated by drought and other threats to public health; and increased persecution through eroding social and political rights for women, girls, members of religious and ethnic minorities, and other segments of the Afghan population, we urge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to regularly and proactively consult with affected communities and conduct frequent country conditions reviews to consider adjusting the dates of this vital blanket protection to safeguard human life.
I. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Redesignation Authority
Congress created TPS to allow people from a designated country to remain in the United States and to access work authorization to support themselves while conditions in their home country make safe return impossible. Congress created a mechanism in which it shares authority with the Secretary of Homeland Security to designate a country for TPS if the country is experiencing ongoing armed conflict, natural disaster, or other extraordinary and temporary conditions. Much like the humanitarian parole protection many Afghans have been granted in order to enter the United States under Operation Allies Refuge and Operation Allies Welcome, TPS is premised on the foundation of non-refoulement and is a life-saving, blanket protection.
The TPS statute provides for the “periodic review” of a country’s designation which may lead to a country’s designation being extended if new or previous unsafe conditions persist. In this instance, the cutoff date for arrival can be moved forward (“redesignation”) to allow those who arrived later to also qualify for protection. So long as conditions continue that make return unsafe, there is no limit to the number of times a country can be extended or redesignated. There is also no limit to the frequency of such extensions and redesignations as long as the decision is made a minimum of 60 days before the end of the current designation period.Afghanistan can and should be redesignated for TPS as often as necessary to extend protection to people as they arrive.
Significantly, as a blanket protection, TPS safeguards nationals of a designated country who are experiencing barriers in accessing long-term pathways for protection, those who have pending, undecided immigration benefit applications, those who are ineligible for, have been denied, or otherwise choose not to seek asylum. Many Afghans who have arrived in the United States since August 2021 fall into all of those categories. Because legislative efforts to provide a streamlined pathway to lawful permanent residency for Afghans through the Afghan Adjustment Act have not yet come to fruition, the two most common paths to lawful permanent residency (LPR) for newly arrived Afghans are asylum and the Afghan Special Immigration Visa (SIV) program. Both of these complex immigration processes have yielded a grant of asylum or LPR for less than seven percent of the total evacuee population. Thus, there is an increasingly urgent need for expanded temporary protections for Afghans who remain in need of life-saving protection.
In the case of Afghanistan, with country-wide economic collapse and a devolving humanitarian disaster , strategic use of TPS remains critical as many may not be able to demonstrate individualized persecution and meet the U.S. asylum system’s high bars or those who are SIV-eligible who await COM approval or adjustment of status processing, but would face life and freedom-threatening circumstances if returned.
II. The Urgent Need for Immediate Redesignation of Temporary Protected Status for Afghanistan
announced the designation of Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 18 months. The designation was on the statutory bases of ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that prevent Afghan nationals from returning to safety, which was later detailed in the Federal Register Notice.The designation established a continuous residence cutoff date of March 15, 2022.
The Biden administration has consistently acknowledged deteriorating and dangerous conditions in Afghanistan and the need to provide protection pathways for vulnerable Afghans through Operation Allies Refuge, Operation Allies Welcome , DHS’s TPS designation, the formal establishment of the Department of State’s Coordinator for Afghan Relocation Efforts (CARE) team, and, most recently - Enduring Welcome. According to reports, 77,400 Afghans were brought to the United States on humanitarian parole through the Operation Allies Welcome evacuation and relocation efforts from July 2021 through September 2022. Their parole and associated work authorizations will begin to expire as early as July 2023 and DHS has yet to officially announce a process to seek an extension of parole or work authorization, despite advocates’ urgent requests.
According to a February 2023 report, only six percent of the total population of Afghans evacuated through Operation Allies Welcome have been granted asylum or LPR through the Afghan SIV program. All others will need access to temporary protection options, including TPS, or they will become vulnerable to loss of work authorization and deportation. As demonstrated in the country conditions analysis below, the conditions in Afghanistan have continued to degrade so severely that immediate redesignation of TPS pursuant to the statutory requirements, specifically ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions, is warranted and urgently needed to ensure Afghans who have not already secured a durable status are at least temporarily protected. Conditions in Afghanistan that Merit an Immediate Redesignation, Extension of TPS
A. Armed Conflict and Security Situation
The State Department has set Afghanistan’s travel advisory at Level 4 due to armed conflict, civil unrest, crime, terrorism, and kidnapping. Since March 2022, the security situation in Afghanistan has only gotten more dire and the threats to stability have only increased. The U.S. State Department has itself expressed serious concerns about the increasing threats presented by terrorist groups in Afghanistan, including the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, Tehrik-i-Taliban-Pakistan, and others. Moreover, the Taliban have proven unable if not unwilling to provide security to at-risk populations and medical care and other assistance to survivors and affected families.
The Taliban’s oppressive rule is one of the numerous sources of civilian harm fueling an environment of violence and insecurity. Former government officials and Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) members frequently face extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and torture at the hands of the Taliban authorities. Afghans who served the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan have long been prime targets for anti-American motivated retribution. However, a recent survey representing an estimated 91,350 Afghan SIV eligible applicants. illustrates a worsening situation and increased reports that indicate the Taliban is engaging in a systematic country-wide effort to target Afghans who previously worked with U.S. forces.
Further, journalists and other members of the news media are detained and beaten by the Taliban to discourage critical coverage. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has also documented an increase in judicial corporal punishment by the Taliban authorities, as well as improvised explosive devices and unexploded ordnance continuing to kill or maim civilians.
Violent incidents targeting Afghan civilians remain a regular occurrence, both at the hands of the Taliban and as the Taliban faces challenges to its authority from the Islamic State-Korasan (IS-K) and various armed resistance groups. Groups such as IS-K retain the capacity to launch highprofile attacks against civilians, the Taliban, and foreign nationals in soft-target locations, such as markets, schools, hotels, and government buildings.
B. Economic Collapse and Health Concerns
Renewed Taliban rule of Afghanistan ushered in “a new era characterized by rapid economic decline, hunger and risk of malnutrition, inflation driven by global commodity shocks, drastic rises in both urban and rural poverty [and] a near-collapse of the national public health system.”According to the country's Humanitarian Needs Overview, about 28.3 million people in Afghanistan–roughly two-thirds of the population–will need urgent humanitarian assistance in 2023. The flight of international aid after the Taliban takeover drastically shrank public spending which, in turn, undermined private-sector activity. United Nations leaders note that Afghanistan’s gross domestic product has declined up to 35 percent over the past 18 months, erasing a decade of economic development gains. The Afghanistan Socio-Economic Outlook published in April 2023 found that the country’s economic descent has left it as “one of the poorest two or three countries in the world.” Due to inflation and other factors, the World Bank projects no significant improvement in per capita income, poverty rates, or food insecurity–even as the economy adjusts to a new equilibrium. On February 3, 2023, President Biden announced the “Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to the Widespread Humanitarian Crisis in Afghanistan and the Potential for a Deepening Economic Collapse in Afghanistan,” reflecting the severity of Afghanistan’s ongoing humanitarian and economic crises.
With stagnant incomes and inflated prices, food insecurity and malnourishment persist throughout Afghanistan. Nearly 20 million Afghans are considered food insecure, with 6 million people on the brink of famine-like conditions and 4 million people considered acutely malnourished, according to the World Food Programme. Decades of conflict, environmental degradation, and insufficient investment in disaster risk reduction strategies have left the Afghan population extremely vulnerable to natural disaster shocks such as droughts, earthquakes, and floods. The national drought declared in June 2021 is now worsening as it enters its third year, with six times more households experiencing drought conditions in 2022 than in 2020. Sudden-onset disasters, such as the 6.2 magnitude earthquake in Paktika and Khost provinces in June 2022 and atypical summer flood events in August 2022, have also exacerbated humanitarian needs. Upkeep and maintenance of critical public infrastructure including agricultural support systems, dams, flood protections, education facilities, and electrical and natural gas supplies have markedly deteriorated with the decline in international investment and impacts from other shocks.
Afghanistan’s ongoing crises related to conflict, repression, economic collapse, and climate change have worsened an already “weakened and undersized public health system.”Afghans still struggle to access health care due to cost and other barriers, even as unmet medical and humanitarian needs soar. Infectious disease outbreaks of acute watery diarrhea and measles were reported in 2022.
In addition, harsh winter conditions resulted in acute respiratory rates “significantly increasing” across Afghanistan.UNAMA recorded 30 attacks on healthcare personnel and 362 incidents of violence and threats against humanitarian workers, assets, and facilities in 2022. The challenging operating environment for public health and humanitarian actors was further threatened by the December 24, 2022 decree banning female nongovernmental organization (NGO) employees from going to work and the April 4, 2023 ban on women working for United Nations agencies.
C. Human Rights Abuses and Repression
As part of their brutal style of governance, the Taliban are accelerating an unapologetic, repressive campaign to erase women and girls from public life in Afghanistan. Taliban authorities in mid-November 2022 banned women and girls from public parks and gyms. In December 2022, the Taliban announced the immediate suspension of women from universities. The December 24, 2022 ban on women working for domestic and international NGOs drew immediate outrage and condemnation globally yet it remains in place. In a joint statement, Secretary Blinken and other foreign ministers noted the ban demonstrated the Taliban’s “contempt for the rights, freedoms, and welfare of the Afghan people, particularly women and girls.”
This pattern amounts to systematic repression and discrimination against Afghan women and girls, who are now prohibited from receiving an education past the sixth grade. Denied access to secondary education and restrictions on mobility have severely curtailed the participation of Afghan women in the economy.”
Furthermore, a rise in sexual and gender-based violence is “occurring with impunity and with minimal support for victims,” reports the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan. Afghanistan has by many accounts fallen into a state of gender apartheid.
Religious minorities – including the Hazara and other Shia Muslims, as well as Sikhs, Sufis, Christians, and Hindus– face targeted threats and attacks as part of daily life in Afghanistan.
The Hazara population has been specifically targeted in attacks against civilians and through extrajudicial killings. A suicide bombing at the Kaaj Educational Center in Kabul’s Dasht-e-Barchi area on September 30, 2022 killed 54 people - the overwhelming majority of whom were young women and girls studying for the university entrance examination. Hazara elders, representatives, and civil society activists have made calls for protection by the authorities that have gone unanswered – another clear demonstration of the Taliban’s unwillingness to ensure the safety of vulnerable groups and the civilian population at large.
LGBTQIA+ Afghans also face grave danger and violence as a result of the Taliban’s rigid, intolerant worldview. Lesbian, gays, bisexual, and transgender Afghans face arrest, detention, torture, and gang rape – with activists documenting dozens of cases of harassment, beatings, burnings, and killings of young people by Taliban authorities.
Since August 2021, forced evictions and land grabbing have displaced thousands of people belonging to political and ethnic minorities, including the Hazara. These tensions have intensified into armed conflict since the Taliban takeover, with Kuchi nomadic groups using force to take land from rival groups or residents. Mostly Uzbek and Tajik residents in Sar-e-Pol Province, for instance, faced forced evictions in December 2022 and were threatened with a military response if they did not comply. These land disputes are contributing to the lingering widespread rates of internal displacement within Afghanistan, although economic challenges such as poverty, debt, and disrupted livelihoods are increasingly the main drivers behind internal and cross-border movements.
An extension and immediate redesignation of TPS for Afghanistan are necessary to safeguard vulnerable Afghans in the United States. These efforts also reaffirm the U.S. commitment to establishing policies to support the people of Afghanistan, which is critical considering the Taliban’s repressive regime and the recent emboldening of terrorist groups such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State, which threaten the national security interests of the United States and jeopardize regional and global security.
In conclusion, we respectfully urge the administration to: (1) immediately redesignate TPS for Afghanistan, (2) to publish a timely Federal Register Notice, and (3) to launch a public information campaign to notify the impacted community of the decision and any actions they must take. Again, we call for the ongoing use of these blanket protections, including frequent review and adjustment of dates, to safeguard human life, honor our promises, and live our values.
Photo of coalition forces evacuating children at Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 20, by Victor Mancilla