Staff and volunteers at PALA’s Adjustment of Status Clinic; July 30th, 2022.
By Nayab Khan, Legal Intern with PALA; and Annie Roebuck, Program Associate
Following the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, the United States saw a stark increase in Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applications as over 85,000 Afghans arrived seeking asylum. As those applications have taken shape, so too have cases requiring an adjustment of status.
In response to this crisis, Human Rights First launched its Project: Afghan Legal Assistance (PALA) in September 2021. As PALA partnered with other legal service providers based in the greater Washington DC area, the coalition identified a significant need to assist people with the completion of green card applications. The families in need were those who had gone through the SIV process and now were well-positioned for green card applications.
In late July, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) introduced an important procedural development, determining that I-360 forms, or Petitions for a Special Immigrant Visa, are no longer required. However, since this procedural change was not applied retroactively, individuals who received Chief of Mission (COM) and SIV approval before this change was enacted, are still required to submit an I-360 form.
In response, PALA, along with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) and Women for Afghan Women (WAW), organized an “Adjustment of Status Clinic,” to help Afghan families navigate the green card process. Eight families, including 34 individuals from the local DC, Maryland, and Virginia area, were invited to partake in the clinic. Among the 25 volunteers, eight were attorneys, the rest comprised of translators and other volunteers from the community.
This was the first in-person PALA clinic conducted after almost two years of remote clinics, due to the pandemic. This made a difference for the participants, who expressed that the in-person nature of the event alleviated issues that often come with not having regular access to computers and printers.
“Our team was able to connect with these people face-to-face and in their own language. I hope that the families felt supported by our attorneys and volunteers, and this helped to relieve some of their anxiety over the legal process,” said Fatima Safi, Legal Services Coordinator on the PALA team.
While the in-person nature of the event did make client-attorney communication easier, there were certainly other hiccups. One of the biggest roadblocks came from lack of documentation, as many of the clients at the clinic left Afghanistan in a hurry and did not bring important documents with them.
“It’s not surprising that when these people had to quickly pack up their entire lives and leave the homes that they had always known, they didn’t think – what documents will I need in order to stay in the US?” said Safi. “They were more focused on surviving.”
For example, marriage certificates in Afghanistan are uncommon, making it difficult to prove marital status. Obtaining medical documents is also an issue for many people. While all the clients who attended the clinic had completed a medical review on the military base at which they had arrived, there is some concern that USCIS may expect or require medical records from a USCIS approved facility. Additionally, translation of these types of documents often proves more difficult than anticipated.
PALA would like to thank all the volunteers who helped make this possible. Next time you can help too. If you’re an attorney interested in volunteering with PALA, please sign up here.
In looking ahead at future clinics and what changes the PALA team might make, Safi smartly suggested, “I think we’d make sure there’s a way to keep all the children busy.”