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The road to immigration: Wisconsin Afghan evacuees bogged down by red tape

Afghan evacuee Air Force
fort mccoy
Posted at 6:30 AM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 07:30:34-04

APPLETON, Wis. (NBC 26) — After escaping violence in Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan evacuees continue to resettle at Fort McCoy.

At least 100 evacuees will soon be starting a new life in the Fox Valley.

Due to their urgent evacuation, their path to resettlement is being challenged by their legal status, limiting their access to government funding.

"It escalated so quickly that people had to be removed quickly. They were under deep threat from the Taliban so our country had to react very quickly," says Tami McLaughlin, Director of World Relief Fox Valley.

Instead of being designated as refugees, the evacuees were brought to the U.S. under a different legal status known as Humanitarian Parole, allowing them to quickly resettle in the U.S. without a Visa.

fort mccoy
Students at Fort McCoy

According to the Associated Press, it is the same program that was used in 1975 after the Vietnam War, then again in 1996 after the first Iraq War.

"Parolee status means they may not possibly qualify for the refugee benefits that refugees receive," adds McLaughlin.

As Parolees, resources are limited. Those under 18 years old can qualify for food assistance benefits, and those under 21 and pregnant are eligible for Medicaid. However, federally-funded cash assistance will not be granted, leaving it up to community support to fill in the gaps.

"We always provide assistance in securing employment so that will be heightened. Our ability to find them jobs earlier on will certainly be one of our priorities so they can start becoming self-sufficient and start paying their own bills. That's something they all want to do, they want to become self-sufficient," says McLaughlin.

World Relief Fox Valley Director, Tami McLaughlin says the community is working hard to make sure evacuees receive fair working wages, healthcare, access to public transportation, help with cultural and language education, as well as getting children registered for school within the public school system.

"We've done this since 2012 with all of the other refugee families that we have welcomed, but we are under a little more pressure," McLaughlin says.

APTOPIX Afghan Refugees Wisconsin
U.S. Military Police walk past Afghan refugees at the Village at the Ft. McCoy U.S. Army base on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021 in Ft. McCoy, Wis. The fort is one of eight military installations across the country that are temporarily housing the tens of thousands of Afghans who were forced to flee their homeland in August after the U.S. withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban took control. (Barbara Davidson/Pool Photo via AP)

Last week, the House and Senate both approved $6.3 billion in funding for Afghan evacuee resettlement. Senator Tammy Baldwin said in a statement:

"Fort McCoy has done tremendous work and I voted for legislation that passed Congress with bipartisan support that provides necessary funding to help process and resettle Afghan refugees in Wisconsin and around the country."

The bill allows for certain benefits to be offered to evacuees like food assistance and placement support but doesn't change their legal status.

Those helping evacuees like World Relief Fox Valley are calling on Congress to grant Afghans full access to refugee status, leading to permanent residence in the United States. Now, advocates are calling on your support to help spread the word.

"People can advocate and send letters and calls to their congressman in support of that. We think that is very, very important to stabilize well is to have these benefits available," McLaughlin adds.

To access more information and learn how to support World Relief Fox Valley click here.