More than 2,000 Afghan refugees have arrived in Colorado, with more expected through summer

More than 2,000 Afghans arrived in Colorado since troops left Afghanistan in August, but administrative backlogs and other barriers are making it difficult for families to reunite with relatives still overseas or to get permanent residency in the U.S.

Between September and February, 2,067 Afghans made it to Colorado, with another 150-200 expected this spring and summer, according to refugee resettlement groups. U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat who lives in Centennial, has been advocating with other members for the “Afghan Adjustment Act.”

At a virtual event Monday hosted by the Truman National Security Project, moderator Anna Hanel of the African Community Center noted that many of the Afghans who were able to evacuate and come to Colorado were granted temporary parole status for two years until they can apply for special immigrant visas or asylum. The latter, however, is more complicated because many of the documents needed for asylum requests were destroyed.

Additionally, backlogs are causing delays, and in the meantime, families are split between Colorado and Kabul and can’t apply to be reunified before their residency status changes. The Afghan Adjustment Act, if passed, could provide a more clear pathway to getting green cards and permanent residency, Hanel said, which the U.S. has previously done for Cuban and Vietnamese refugees.

Crow said there are still tens of thousands of people in Afghanistan or temporarily in other countries who are trying to get to the U.S., including those who have helped the U.S. military as well as other eligible refugees. Congress members are working with the White House on additional bills that could help with evacuations and resettlement. Crow’s office has fielded more than 4,000 requests for help.

“It was a heartbreaking, remains a very heartbreaking, and frankly emotionally tumultuous process for all of us,” he said. “As people we know, people that we’ve made promises to, are in great danger and some of them haven’t made it out and have died.”

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Government officials don’t have an exact number of how many Afghans are eligible to leave, but Crow said it’s estimated to be about 50,000-80,000 just for special immigrant visa eligible individuals — people who have worked directly with the U.S. government or military. But that number doesn’t include the number of primary family members of those individuals who would also be eligible.

Crow said it’s not just about keeping promises to allies and friends, but it’s also a national security issue.

“We are not going to have friends and partners going forward and in the future if those future friends and partners don’t believe that the United States of America will stand behind them,” he said. “And that means we have to do the right thing by our Afghan friends.”

Broomfield Councilwoman Heidi Henkel, Colorado House Rep. Iman Jodeh, and Jaime Koehler Blanchard of Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, detailed efforts by volunteers, resettlement agencies, Muslim communities and the state Office of New Americans to help Afghans who landed in Colorado. After years of smaller numbers of refugees during former President Donald Trump’s administration, they had to increase support services and resources.

That support included cultural education, helping families register their kids for school, finding affordable housing and transportation, and getting access to food that met their dietary and religious restrictions, all amid COVID closures and high transmission rates. The panelists called on Coloradans to continue helping and to contact their lawmakers about assisting those trying to resettle.

“Immigrants and refugees within 10 years have contributed almost $1.2 billion back into our economy,” Jodeh said. “And so … the stereotype that they’re going to be a burden on the state, or even on our nation, even through things like affordable housing is again, something that we have to dismantle.”

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