WRQC intern Rubens Gonzales discusses his trip to meet Rep. Miller-Meeks and gives his perspective on the Afghan Adjustment Act.
A legal path to safety
Last month, I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a special meeting with WRQC and Representative Miller-Meeks to talk about the Afghan Adjustment Act that was recently introduced in the Senate.
The bill would provide a legal adjustment process for the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees relocated from Afghanistan and resettled into local American communities. It includes those who supported U.S. missions in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, since the U.S. withdrawal from the country back in August 2021.
On the way to Pella, Iowa, I rode with Afghans who have experienced displacement as refugees over the last couple of years. They wanted to give voice to the new Afghan community. More importantly, they were there to offer gratitude to representatives such as Miller-Meeks who advocate for a much more efficient legal process for resettling Afghan refugees here in the United States.
During the trip, I could see and hear how nervous some of the Afghans were. They were unsure how to tell their story.
*It is important to remember that harsh traumas and experiences have made it hard for them to recall the events that led them to where they are now. In respect to their privacy, I will refer to them anonymously.
“How are you feeling, are you ready?” I asked the man sitting next to me on the way to the Vermeer Global Pavilion.
“No, I really do not want to talk about this because it is not easy for me. I get sad just thinking about this, but I know that there will be good behind this,” he said.
The early stages of the bill
Event organizers greeted us when we arrived and led us to the meeting room. After settling down for a couple of minutes, the meeting started with introductions.
There were several groups attending the meeting. One was Rep. Miller Meeks and her staff. Another was the business sector, who were mostly representing big companies that were willing to talk about job opportunities. The other corners were taken up by World Relief, Lutheran Social Services, and the National Immigration Forum. The Afghans sat beside Laura Fontaine, our director, and the meeting began.
The meeting started with Rep. Miller Meeks explaining what is happening inside the House, and how they plan to pursue the Afghan Adjustment Act. She said the bill is still in its early stages because it was just introduced, and because they have yet to gather support from other members of the House. Nonetheless, she tells everyone that her office is working very hard, along with several other members of the House who advocates for the same cause.
Rep. Miller-Meeks shared her background as a military veteran who worked closely with Afghans during her time of service. Her experience reinforced her empathy and understanding for Afghan refugees.
After Rep. Miller-Meeks introductory statement, she gave the floor to the Afghans to speak their parts. Five members of the Afghan community shared powerful stories with similar obstacles. They expressed concerns about family, financial struggles, difficulties in coping with trauma, and frustrations regarding the slow legal process of their cases.
What it’s like to be forcibly displaced
“Everyday, we try our best to bury the thoughts in our head. But at the end of the day when it’s time to rest, I can only think about my family who I left behind.”
“My kids ask me all the time when we can all be together again. It is hard for me to hear that they are counting every second that they are away from me.”
“It’s hard to explain to people that coming back is not an option for us. When we were forced to leave, I burned all my documents. Once we set foot back in Afghanistan, they will take my life and my family’s.”
“Behind the smile that we put on our face is the constant thought of us worrying for the lives of our friends, families, and loved ones back home. Their lives are in constant danger and we cannot do anything about it.”
These were just some of the remarks that I remember from stories told by the Afghans. Through their voice, I could feel how difficult it is for them to be where they are right now.
Following the powerful statements of the Afghans, we came back to Rep. Miller-Meeks to share her empathy for their situations. She said she understood what they were feeling and would do everything she could to rally up support in the House and pass the bill.
After that, the business sector was brought into the conversation. They were excited to welcome new refugees because of the ongoing labor crisis happening in Iowa. They expressed that many jobs are available for refugees to take if they are in search of employment.
There was time for clarifications, questions, and concerns before the meeting ended. All in all, everyone felt that they were in good hands with Rep. Miller-Meeks presence and support. The Afghans hold hope for brighter days as they look forward to a more efficient legal process and to finally reunite with their loved ones after years of separation and displacement.
As a political science major, this experience was truly an eye-opener for me as I was given the chance to hear how politics work inside the House. I heard about the realities of party polarization happening here in the United States. This makes policy making very intricate, which also means that there is no definitive timeline for when exactly this bill can be passed.
Lots of lobbying and convincing needs to be done in and outside of the senate before refugees can actually reap the benefits of the Afghan Adjustment Act.
Visit our advocacy page to write to your representatives and ask them for their support of the Afghan Adjustment Act.
Rubens Gonzales interns with Immigration Legal Services team at World Relief Quad Cities. He is a senior at Augustana College majoring in Political Science and Asian Studies. He plans to attend law school after graduating and pursue Immigration Law.