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Advocates hope for progress in congressional bill to protect Afghans

U.S. lawmakers introduced the Afghan Adjustment Act to provide a pathway to permanent status for some 80,000 Afghans evacuated from their country last fall. 

Most evacuees have humanitarian parole, a temporary immigration status that provides no path to citizenship. The new bill would allow them access to green cards and other long-term solutions. It began as a bipartisan effort introduced by lawmakers including U.S. Congress Greg Stanton.

But it's since stalled in Congress. Some lawmakers, like Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, have said there are potential security concerns. 

Bill Richardson is a Marine veteran in Phoenix who helped evacuate Afghan military service members who worked alongside the U.S. military. He says they’re already vetted.

"Thoroughly vetted, their backgrounds are probably as good or better than your average Phoenix police officer," he said. 

Richardson says under the new legislation, anyone going through the process would be vetted even more.

"So that, we know who they are, we know where they’re at, we know what they’re going to be doing," he said. "But this stall is leaving those people who worked in special operations out in the cold," said Richardson.

Many Afghans are now entering the second year of their two-year humanitarian parole status. The process of applying for asylum, which is another track that could provide permanent status, could take years to complete.

Richardson says he and other advocates hope the bill makes more progress when Congress reconvenes. 

Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.