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Time’s running out for Afghans seeking asylum and Wisconsin lawyers step up

Wisconsin attorneys are in a time crunch to help hundreds of Afghans now living in the Badger State apply for asylum, with the one-year anniversary of their eme
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 10:35 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin attorneys are in a time crunch to help hundreds of Afghans now living in the Badger State apply for asylum, with the one-year anniversary of their emergency arrival to the U.S. quickly approaching.

Last year’s historic evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghans to the U.S. amid the Taliban’s takeover continues to have ripple effects on America’s immigration and legal system. Of the 80,000 Afghans who evacuated from Kabul to the U.S. last year, more than 1,000 have resettled in Wisconsin.

Grant Sovern, President of the board of directors at the Community Immigration Law Center in Madison, said most of them have a complicated legal process to wade through to make sure they can stay here permanently.

THE RACE TO SEEK ASYLUM

While you may have heard the Afghan evacuees referred to as ‘refugees’ amid that crisis, Sovern said by law, they are in the U.S. under ‘parole status.’

“This parole status is completely different, because at the end of two years they get deported if they don’t come up with something else and nobody even believes me when I say that to them,” said Sovern.

Sovern explained that 30-40% of Afghans who came to live in Wisconsin qualified for a Special Immigrant Visa. This is for people who helped or worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan. The remaining 60-70% will need to apply for asylum, which Sovern said is a complicated process that requires the help of an immigration lawyer.

“You can’t just prove that your country is in chaos and that nobody can live there. In asylum in the U.S. you have to prove that you have already suffered persecution or you will because of specifically your religion, your race, your political opinion or being a member of a particular social group,” said Sovern.

Asylum applications must be submitted within one year of arrival, otherwise they could face deportation. Sovern said this means the clock is ticking for hundreds of Afghans currently living in Wisconsin.

“They have to file an application in the US Immigration asylum system, in English, by August of 2022. While they’re worried about what’s going on with their family back at home, while they’re worried about finding a place to live, while they’re worried about feeding their kids, while they’re worried about trying to get a job,” explained Sovern.

CALLING ON ATTORNEYS TO HELP

Sovern also said there are not nearly enough immigration lawyers in Wisconsin. The ones that are here couldn’t possibly handle this sudden surge in asylum cases alone, he continued, adding “the current immigration lawyers and pro bono community is so overtaxed.”

To help remedy the problem and ensure all Afghans living in Wisconsin are able to properly apply for asylum, Sovern worked with immigration and legal organizations across the state to create a training program for non-immigration attorneys.

The 20-30 hour training teaches these lawyers about the asylum application process, so they can help Afghan families apply for it before their deadline. Interested attorneys can contact the Community Immigration Law Center in Madison.

“We’ve gotten a really great response but still we need hundreds of lawyers to do this,” said Sovern.

Sovern added that this work by the local legal community is crucial in helping Afghans remain in safe and stable communities, following a year of devastating change in their homeland.

“We’ve seen how terrible it is what’s happened to them, and we can do something about it. It’s really amazing to think that we can be a part of a huge international solution for individuals, for people that can show the American and Wisconsin welcome,” said Sovern.

Sovern also says he is hopeful that Congress will take action to help expedite the legal process and make achieving a permanent status easier for Afghans.

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