‘I never want to go back’: Afghan refugee in Cedar Rapids hopes for permanent legal status

Published: Dec. 20, 2022 at 10:24 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Masood Akbari worked as an interpreter for the U.S. government for about 15 years during the American occupation of Afghanistan.

He said he loves his country, but added, “I never want to go back to Afghanistan.” Akbari is hoping the Afghan Adjustment Act means that he never has to. The bill would create a pathway for Afghan refugees to have permanent legal status in the U.S.

The U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, after a twenty year presence. After the withdrawal, the Taliban resumed control of the country.

Akbari said he felt he and his family were in danger because of his work with the American government.

“I don’t see any future for my kids. I don’t feel—I feel that they are not safe anymore. Because of my family background, that we are working for the U.S. Army for almost 15 years,” said Akbari.

Akbari said he and his family waited at the airport for three days and were lucky to finally make it out of the country. Now, they’re refugees living in Cedar Rapids with what’s called parolee status.

Parolee status “is not a permanent status,” said Reverend Joel Tooley, a consultant for the National Immigration Forum who is from Iowa. “It basically allows them to have safety, but there’s no trajectory that would allow them to have any sense of permanency.”

According to Tooley, “there is one key Senator who stands in the way” of the Afghan Adjustment Act: Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.

According to Senator Grassley’s office, “there have been a number of different versions of the Afghan Adjustment Act circulating over the last week or so, which has created hurdles to its inclusion in a year-end government funding bill.”

A representative for Grassley’s office went on to say, “Beyond the lack of agreement among some of the bill’s supporters about which version to push for inclusion in the omnibus bill, lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol, including Sen. Grassley, have expressed concerns that the proposals would legislatively ratify the Biden Administration’s abuse of the immigration parole statute, which is intended to be used in very narrow case-by-case circumstances to grant temporary access to the United States.”

The rep added, “Sen. Grassley supports visas for eligible Afghans who provided direct support to the U.S. military effort and their families through the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, and ensuring the program isn’t abused so visas remain available to those who risked their own safety to assist our troops in the war effort. Those who are not eligible for an SIV are able to use the existing asylum process.”

Akbari is one of the thousands of Afghan refugees who could not get the paperwork together to get an SIV. He said for an SIV, a refugee needs two letters: a recommendation letter and HR letter. Akbari has his HR letter, but could not find the woman who could write his recommendation letter.

Senator Grassley’s office said, “The administration’s failure to properly vet Afghan evacuees throughout this process has resulted in individuals being flagged for security concerns after they’d already arrived into the United States. The Senate has received a series of classified briefings on this issue, and Sen. Grassley has been outspoken about the need for transparency so all Americans can know the full scope of these security concerns in the United States.”

Akbari’s employment ID card expires in 2023.

“I have two kids, two daughters here live with me. If I don’t have employment card, I cannot survive here,” said Akbari.

He said he’s optimistic the Afghan Adjustment Act will pass and create a legal option for him to be in the U.S. permanently. He added that the scenario is really his only option.

“I feel that myself and my family—nobody is safe,” said Akbari.