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Utah’s Afghan arrivals stuck in legal limbo

Sep 19, 2023, 10:21 PM | Updated: 10:21 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Nearly two years after they arrived in the U.S., many Afghans who fled persecution still face an uncertain future in this country. That’s because the documents that allow them to live and work lawfully will soon expire.

In the final episode, the KSL podcast When Stranger Becomes Neighbor explores how that added stress is impacting families already living in extremely stressful situations.

“Nobody has the answer and it’s just a waiting game,” said Baran, a teenager who escaped Afghanistan in 2021 and does not want her full name to be identified because she fears for the safety of her family still in Afghanistan.

KSL Podcasts launches ‘Stranger Becomes Neighbor: Afghan Arrivals’

Afghan refugees were granted humanitarian parole for 24 months, but the special immigration visa application process can take up to 34 months.

“Immigration is so overwhelmed,” said Aden Batar, Director of Migration and Refugee Services for Catholic Communities Services. “Close to 80,000 Afghans came into the U.S. at once.”

Baran and her older sister Mina have been left to care for their niece alone in Salt Lake City because the rest of their family didn’t escape when the Taliban seized control of Kabul in 2021.

“We don’t like talking about her parents because if I talk to her, she always asks, ‘When are my parents coming?’ but we don’t tell her,” Baran said.

For the last two years, KSL podcast host Andrea Smardon has followed the stories of some of the Afghan families who resettled in Utah.

“It’s been really surprising to see the way things have unfolded. There’s been a lot of difficult challenges, and there’s also been these really life changing relationships that have happened.”

Salt Lake resident Kerry Wickman is responsible for one of those life changing relationships — helping her new neighbors with everything from grocery shopping to immigration forms and becoming like family along the way.

“We just call mom, I need you. She come or her husband come for everything. They help us,” Mina said.
“She had a moment when she shared some of the trauma she had been through and that was a turning point for me,” Wickman said.

“Those relationships are critical with neighbors, with regular people around you,” Smardon said.

Baran was recently granted asylum, but her older sister Mina is still waiting.

The Biden administration is allowing qualifying Afghans to renew their parole status but there are barriers for Afghan refugees who don’t understand the process, English or have access to computers.

Congress is debating the Afghan Adjustment Act which would speed up the process for permanent legal status. It would also create a process to bring over eligible family members still in Afghanistan.

When Stranger Becomes Neighbor: Afghan Arrivals is available on KSL Podcasts.com or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

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Utah’s Afghan arrivals stuck in legal limbo