Utah governor endorses legislation supporting Afghan allies

Oct 26, 2022, 11:12 AM | Updated: Nov 18, 2022, 6:17 pm
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a news conference in Salt Lake City on June 16. Cox, along with 12 gover...
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at a news conference in Salt Lake City on June 16. Cox, along with 12 governors, sent a letter to Congress calling for bipartisan legislation on a pathway to permanent residency for Afghan evacuees. (Laura Seitz/Deseret News)
(Laura Seitz/Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Gov. Spencer Cox voiced support for a path to permanent legal residency for the thousands of Afghan humanitarian parolees who arrived in the U.S. following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Cox, along with 12 other state governors, sent a letter to Congress earlier this month calling for bipartisan legislation on the matter. Cox and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott were the only Republicans to endorse the letter.

“We’ve encouraged Congress to pass legislation to provide certainty for our Afghan allies who put their lives on the line for us and are now resettled in Utah,” Cox said in a statement. “Utahns have pitched in to provide them a fresh start, and we’re glad to see Congress working to ensure they can stay.”

The U.S. evacuated over 124,000 people during its chaotic two-week withdrawal in August 2021. Over 79,000 of those evacuees were brought to the U.S. A December 2021 government report says at least 36,433 Afghan evacuees lack a direct pathway to legal residency.

A portion of those evacuees, just over 900 to be exact, now reside in Utah, according to the state’s Department of Workforce Services. Those 900 are mostly composed of humanitarian parolees, a two-year status that allows individuals to temporary enter and stay in the U.S. without a visa but doesn’t grant residency or citizenship. Afghans with humanitarian parole also are not able to apply for immediate family members, such as a spouse or child, to come to the U.S.

The governors’ letter says Congress must match local efforts to house, support and employ Afghans by passing legislation that will give Afghan humanitarian parolees more certainty.

“Although no one believes it would be humane policy to send them back to Afghanistan, it’s also bad policy to leave them in legal limbo,” the governors’ letter reads. “The reality is that the only path for our new neighbors to permanency is through a very complex and long asylum process. Many of these individuals are in mixed-status families and their intentions are to remain in the U.S. as they rebuild their lives. They are understandably uncertain about whether to pursue education and employment and put down roots in other ways, not knowing what may happen in the next year.”

Cox has addressed immigration reform multiple times this month, calling it the easiest of the nation’s problems to solve.

“I don’t know that there is an issue that makes me more angry and sad than immigration,” Cox said during a Latino Town Hall Monday night. “Most Republicans and most Democrats believe that we should secure the border and make legal immigration easier. The only people who don’t believe that are politicians, and they’re the ones who benefit from us fighting about this.”

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Utah governor endorses legislation supporting Afghan allies