Evacuation efforts continue in Afghanistan as the 8/31 withdrawal deadline approaches
The situation in Afghanistan continues to be chaotic as thousands attempt to evacuate after the Taliban takeover earlier this month. President Biden announced that the U.S. would be keeping the 8/31 deadline for completing the withdrawal.
According to an article in The Intercept, while Congressional offices along with veteran and humanitarian organizations have spent the last couple of weeks referring “hundreds, if not thousands, of vulnerable Afghans to the State Department,” there have been no clear answers on how many will be included in evacuation efforts. As of Saturday the United States and other allied countries had evacuated approximately 240,000 people -- 117,000 of them flown out by the U.S. -- since the Taliban took over Kabul. The British government ended their evacuations on Saturday.
DHS Secretary Mayorkas is using “humanitarian parole” to allow some Afghans to arrive in the U.S. if their visa application processing has not yet been completed. This could potentially help tens of thousands of people due to the backlog in the current SIV process. While this expedites their processing, those entering through parole still undergo stringent security vetting before they arrive.
Upon arrival in the United States, evacuees are being housed in four military bases so far: Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, Fort Lee in Virginia, Fort Bliss in Texas and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. They are given medical screenings (including Covid tests) and remain on the military base while their paperwork is being processed. While many will be eligible for permanent status under SIV status, humanitarian parole is temporary and it remains unclear what the long-term outcomes will be for these individuals. Among those brought to the U.S. there have been at least 34 designated as unaccompanied children. Some were reunited with family upon arrival, but others were sent to HHS shelters.
On Sunday, President Biden tasked DHS with leading interagency efforts to resettle those brought to the United States. Robert J. Fenton, Jr., a regional administrator for FEMA since 2015, has been placed in charge of the Unified Coordination Group.
The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that orders the Biden administration to reinstate MPP
On Tuesday the Supreme Court upheld a ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Kacsmaryk, which requires the Biden administration to reinstate the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols (also called MPP or “Remain in Mexico”).
MPP was implemented in December 2018, and about 70,000 people have been enrolled over the life of the program. The controversial program required asylum seekers to await their immigration hearings in Mexico, where they often lived in squalid encampments near the border and faced danger of kidnapping and violence from cartels. Over the course of MPP, there were over 1,500 reported cases of violence against migrants waiting at the Mexican border. This policy also made it harder for migrants to seek legal counsel and appear in court.
President Biden suspended MPP upon taking office in January 2021, and then formally ended the program in June. In April, Texas and Missouri filed a lawsuit claiming that ending MPP has contributed to the rising number of southwest border apprehensions in 2021 and that this is causing harm to their states. U.S. District Judge Kacsmaryk ruled in favor of the states on August 13th. He declared that the Biden administration's reversal was unlawful, and ordered that the MPP program must be reinstated within 7 days.
The Biden administration requested a stay on implementation of this order in the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the request was denied. The administration then appealed to the Supreme Court, and was granted a temporary stay from Justice Alito until the full Court could convene. On August 24th the Supreme Court denied the administration’s stay request.
It’s unclear what the administration’s next move will be. The ACLU, American Immigration Council, and other advocates have suggested that the administration should rewrite the memo to rescind MPP, and include more details on their reasoning to address the issues that the courts had with the first memo. Meanwhile, the UNHCR website for those formerly enrolled in MPP applying for entry to the United States has been shut down.
Data shows that migrants are not likely the cause of Covid spread in the U.S.
While accusations have arisen from leaders such as Governors Abbott and DeSantis of the rising number of Covid cases being caused by migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border, the data does not support this argument. The Wall Street Journal reported that most migrants are still being turned away under Title 42, most of those who remain are being tested, and in regions that report their testing results migrants are testing positive at comparable (or sometimes even lower) rates than the region in general. The article also points out that the 4 states along the border - Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California - are not in the top ten states for increases in Covid cases since this spring.
This infographic from the National Immigration Forum shows a quick breakdown of Covid-19 protocols at the border.