The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with law firm Mintz, today filed a new lawsuit on behalf of Afghans facing danger at the hands of the reinstalled Taliban regime, and New England-area loved ones who are petitioning to bring them to safety in the United States through a process called humanitarian parole. According to the lawsuit, the U.S. government held out the prospect that endangered Afghans could receive humanitarian parole, but, when large numbers applied, changed its standards and began delaying and denying their applications.  

“This change in policy has left Afghans stranded and at risk of extreme violence or death,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “At the same time, it has devastated those who put their faith in the humanitarian parole process. The government has a responsibility to apply its laws fairly, effectively, and efficiently—especially when it deals with the cases of those who are attempting to flee from danger.” 

When the United States’ 20-year occupation of Afghanistan ended in August 2021, the U.S. airlifted more than 100,000 Afghan people out of the country. But the evacuation efforts left thousands of at-risk Afghans behind—including women and those who directly assisted the United States. Tens of thousands of vulnerable Afghans sought help from the U.S. government through applications for humanitarian parole, which allows people to temporarily enter the United States for a limited period, and, once here, apply for asylum or other immigration relief if eligible.  

In August and early September 2021, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) acted with urgency to address applications for humanitarian parole. The agency began granting some applications for humanitarian parole on behalf of Afghans who feared the Taliban, recognizing that they presented “urgent humanitarian reasons” warranting a grant of humanitarian parole under then-existing standards. But as applications into USCIS increased, the agency changed course: For two months, USCIS stopped deciding Afghan humanitarian parole cases, and in November, it began to implement new standards that appear designed to ensure the denial of most applications. 

“The government’s retreat from the Afghan humanitarian parole process has had tragic consequences, leaving our clients stranded and in danger,” said Adriana Lafaille, staff attorney at the ACLU of Massachusetts. “By restricting humanitarian parole standards for Afghans and by failing to adequately acknowledge or explain its decision to make that change, the government has not only violated the rules regarding administrative action, but it has also needlessly left Afghan allies at risk.” 

The plaintiffs who remain in danger in Afghanistan and surrounding countries include a female judge who sentenced members of the Taliban, other women who previously rose to positions of prominence, and people who directly supported the United States in Afghanistan or worked with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, and their family members. After several months of waiting, they have received either denials or no responses to their applications. One plaintiff applied for six family members, but tragically, three of them were killed while awaiting decisions on their applications for humanitarian parole. 

“Through this lawsuit, we hope to prompt necessary action by the government, including to reunite families whose loved ones were left behind after the U.S. evacuated Afghanistan last summer. Our clients remain in grave danger—some as a direct result of their visible and material support for the U.S. operations there throughout the last two decades. And the danger has only been exacerbated by our government’s flawed and delayed process,” said Mintz Member Drew DeVoogd. “Our dedicated team of attorneys looks forward to seeing this case through alongside the ACLU of Massachusetts.” 

The ACLU is asking the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts to require that the plaintiffs’ applications be promptly adjudicated or re-adjudicated under the August 2021 standards for Afghan humanitarian parole. 

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