A Story from World Relief Western NY
World Relief Sacramento has welcomed and resettled 1,211 refugees into our community this fiscal year, many of them from Afghanistan. Many of their stories have been similar to this one from our sister office in New York.
In October 2021, Atiqullah arrived at a United States Military Base, where he and thousands of other Afghan Evacuees across the nation began a complicated existence in the United States. When the US pulled troops out of Afghanistan in late 2021, the nation quickly fell to Taliban rule. In emergency response, the US took unprecedented actions, evacuating at least 75,000 Afghans from the country and placing them under parolee status. The evacuees were temporarily dispersed amongst several military bases in the US before relocating throughout the country. Two years later, the future of many Afghan evacuees in this country remains uncertain.
Navigating a New Life
As the US began to send Afghan parolees to different areas of the US, the urgent need for resettlement aid became obvious; World Relief Western NY opened its doors, providing services several months early. On December 2nd, Atiqullah arrived in Rochester.
While beginning his life in Rochester during the harsh winter months, Atiqullah was admirably optimistic and energetic. He was a single man with no wife or children, yet found himself grateful that he had only himself to care for during his time of transition. Atiqullah, however, did feel lonely, and he made a point to announce that he wanted to find a wife in the future.
Though alone and unsure of what his future in the country would consist of, Atiqullah did not let these obstacles deter his hope. He continued to advocate for himself and his needs in his new environment, declaring that he wished to go to college and earn his degree. World Relief Western NY found him a place to live, provided him with “pocket change” for living essentials, and found the resources to supply him with a laptop for schoolwork.
On December 26th, Atiqullah’s brother arrived in Rochester. Happy to reunite with family, Atiqullah embraced his brother’s presence. His brother joined him in their apartment and Atiqullah began working at the Vigneri Chocolate Factory to support them. With the money they brought home, Atiqullah and his brother sent as much as possible to their families back in Afghanistan. His brother left behind his wife and children, along with their mother, father, sister and brother. The pair dedicated themselves to supporting their family members, even while they struggled to navigate their new lives.
Over the past two years, many Afghans have had similar experiences to Atiqullah and his brother. The parolee status granted to all evacuees meant that their legal residences would expire sometime within one to two years of their entry to the US. Throughout the past two years, congress has stalled on passing the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would allow Afghan parolees to apply for permanent legal status.
In this time, parolee status has been temporarily extended, but the government’s decisions to do so are last minute. This lack of congressional action has left parolees in a state of uncertainty and instability, unsure of whether or for how long they will be able to stay.
Without proper legal status, parolees are additionally unable to apply for family reunification in the US. This has created large-scale anxiety for many Afghan parolees, leaving them powerless over the safety and wellbeing of their family members.
Finding a Home
For Atiqullah and other parolees, guidance for navigating the legal processes to remain in the US was provided by World Relief Western NY in partnership with Catholic Family Center, IRAP (the International Refugee Assistance Project) and Immigrant ARC. On March 6th 2022, the organizations hosted a free immigration legal screening clinic for all Afghan parolees. The parolees interviewed with legal representatives, determining which pathways to residency were open to them. The three options presented to them were the applications for Temporary Protected Status, Special Immigrant Visas and asylum. Atiqullah qualified for only one option: asylum.
After over a year of waiting, Atiqullah finally gained approval for asylum this past September 2023. This approval means that he now holds permanent, legal residence in the US and has obtained a path to apply for his green card. The first action Atiqullah intends on taking as a new permanent resident is beginning the reunification process, applying to bring his family here to the US.
As Atiqullah continues to navigate life as an immigrant in the US, he now has stability. Unlike so many others, he is able to go on with his life without the looming fear of deportation. He currently takes classes at MCC as he pursues his dream of earning a college degree. While so much is left uncertain for his future, Atiqullah knows he now has a resting place to call home.
By Mallory Schake
Mallory is a Marketing Intern with World Relief Western NY for the Fall of 2023.