Politics

Biden admin announces program allowing private individuals to sponsor Afghan refugees

The Sponsor Circle Program for Afghans, an initiative of the Department of State and the Community Sponsorship Hub, requires interested applicants to first pass a background check, complete mandatory training, and pledge that they can support newly arrived individuals or families for three months. “Once sponsor circles are certified, CSH will work to match them with arriving Afghans who choose to participate in the program,” Blinken said. Per the application website, “sponsor circles” must consist of at least five adults.

“In addition to centering communities in welcoming new arrivals, the Sponsor Circle Program expands the capacity to resettle arriving Afghans, complementing the work of the State Department’s non-profit resettlement agency partners,” Blinken continued. “This program showcases the powerful role that individuals can play in coming together to welcome and integrate Afghans into American society, reflecting our spirit of goodwill and generosity.”

The program comes as refugee resettlement agencies tasked by the federal government with aiding refugees have been both deluged with calls from volunteers—“we have never seen this kind of increase in people wanting to volunteer,” one program supervisor from Texas told The Washington Post in August—and have struggled to find affordable housing for individuals and families.

Resettlement agencies have said they typically have months to prepare for new arrivals, but that wasn’t the case with Operation Allies Rescue. “As of earlier this week, roughly 68,000 Afghan evacuees had arrived in the U.S. since August 17, according to Department of Homeland Security data,” CBS News reports. And because thousands of Afghans were quickly evacuated through a process called humanitarian parole, they’ll be unable to access services typically available to other refugees. People in the U.S. through humanitarian parole may be eligible for a work permit.

“Refugee advocates have long called for a U.S. initiative that would mirror Canada’s popular private refugee sponsorship program, arguing that private individuals and groups can help the government resettle more immigrants who qualify for humanitarian protection,” CBS News reported. Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, president of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), compared the program to pre-1980s resettlement efforts that were largely carried out by church groups and individuals.

@LIRSorg began our work in 1939, and private sponsorship was critical to our ability to resettle 17,000 Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon, for example,” she tweeted. “With the current capacity challenges, a parallel model like this could be helpful for reaching higher admissions. It also has the added benefit of helping the American public directly engage with resettlement on a personal level. We see it all the time in our volunteers. It’s a transformative thing to support and walk alongside these refugee families,” she continued. Cris Ramón, a U.S/global migration analyst, agreed that the new policy could be a game-changer.

“US immigration law does allow for private sponsorship for refugees, an authority that Reagan uses for a small pilot program in the 80s,” he tweeted. “But this opportunity can be game-changing by allowing more people to feel invested in an important part of the immigration system and its goals. Private sponsorship is one reason that the Canadian immigration system garners support from many Canadians, so this initiative can do the same here provided polarization over this issue doesn’t interfere,” he continued.

According to one recent poll, 81% responded affirmatively when asked if the nation should “help Afghan allies enter the U.S.” Just 19% were opposed. “The broad bipartisan support for resettling Afghan allies is part of a broader public opinion trend in favor of immigrants and immigration, which grew stronger during the past four years,” immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice said. “It’s imperative that this pilot program is implemented thoughtfully and with sufficient institutional support,” O’Mara Vignarajah continued. “We want to make sure that both refugees and the Americans who welcome them feel positioned for successful outcomes.”




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