Primer: Parole Authority and Afghan Refugees
The Biden administration appears set on using every tool it can to blow past these limitations, including the expansive use of parole authority.
The calamitous manner in which the United States retreated from Afghanistan has metastasized into both an emerging hostage crisis for American citizens stranded behind enemy lines as well as an Afghan refugee crisis. Both the Refugee Admissions Program (RAP) and Special Immigrant Visa program (SIV) have hard caps placed on the number of individuals or families eligible for admission into the United States. Nevertheless, the Biden administration appears set on using every tool it can to blow past these limitations, including the expansive use of parole authority.
Given the radicalization of the general Afghan population, importing potentially hundreds of thousands of people who share entirely different values poses a potentially destabilizing threat to U.S. national security and the cohesion of our communities.
What is Parole?
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), there is a provision that allows the Secretary of Homeland Security (formerly the Attorney General) to temporarily permit noncitizens to enter into the United States who are otherwise inadmissible. This provision is based solely on the secretary’s discretion, providing for the parole of an alien on a temporary, case-by-case basis predicated on what he or she deems urgent humanitarian grounds or significant public benefit.
Congress made its intent regarding parole authority clear in a committee report in 1965 that said such power was to be used only in “emergent, individual, and isolated situations.” Unsurprisingly, it has been used to bring in large groups of refugees over the decades, going beyond congressional original intent. For example, the parole power was used in 1975 to permit entry of nearly 130,000 South Vietnamese nationals following the end of the Vietnam War and almost 7,000 Iraqi nationals following the end of the Gulf War.
A letter spearheaded by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) on August 16, 2021 urged the Biden administration to create a new humanitarian parole category specifically for large numbers of female Afghans. This letter was followed by a memo from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on August 23, 2021 to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to parole an undefined number of Afghan nationals on a case-by-case basis for two years.
Key Elements of Parole
There are a number of key components of the parole power vested in the Department of Homeland Security when it comes to general applicants as well as Afghan refugees.
Consequences and Reforms
The most obvious consequence of parole authority being exercised by the Biden administration is the fact that it potentially provides for an uncapped number of Afghan nationals to be brought inside the United States for lengthy periods of time beyond the limitations placed on the RAP and SIV programs.
Given that parole is granted at the discretion of the Secretary of Homeland Security and that there is no statutory definition for what constitutes “urgent humanitarian reason” or “significant public benefit,” the administration essentially has unlimited power to exercise this discretion.
Congressional lawmakers should immediately work to implement the following policies:
The catastrophic manner in which the United States withdrew from Afghanistan has resulted in myriad urgent policy challenges both at the domestic and international level. Elected officials must remain clear-eyed and put the security and interests of the American people first. Regional resettlement of Afghan refugees remains the best option for both the Afghans fleeing the Taliban and American citizens whom elected officials swore an oath to protect.
Furthermore, lawmakers must begin curbing the parole powers of the Secretary of Homeland Security to ensure greater oversight regarding who is allowed inside the United States while providing specific statutory language to clarify what constitutes “urgent humanitarian reason” and “significant public benefit.” Failure to legislate reasonable parameters and institute strong vetting protocols is guaranteed to bring about abuse of the process, which could lead to significant harm for American citizens.
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