GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — A clinic to help hundreds of Afghan evacuees in West Michigan seek asylum kicked off on Tuesday.
Organizers call the “New Americans Legal Clinic” the next phase of the community’s response to the massive airlift and withdrawal from Kabul last August.
Lighthouse Immigration Advocates will operate the clinic with support from other community partners.
The NALC program intends to help more than 270 clients apply for asylum through October. The service is free of charge.
“We owe them a chance to succeed in this country,” said Sam Filcik, asylum attorney at Lighthouse Immigration Advocates. “There were so many people supporting the effort of the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan, just hundreds of thousands of folks that were in critical danger when the Taliban took over, so they are fleeing for fear of what would happen to them if they stayed in the country. Most of them have relatives or friends who have been beaten or killed.”
Around 76,000 Afghans fled to the United States after troops ended the decades-long war with the country.
At the time, to deal with the influx of immigrants, the United States granted evacuees humanitarian parole, which is a special designation that allows people to work and live in the cities for up to a year without fear of deportation.
However, with the year mark approaching, Filcik explains there’s a need for more permanent protection.
Under law, once an application is submitted, the government must schedule an interview with the applicant within 45 days. A decision on their status must be issued no later than 150 days after that meeting.
If approved, a person may request asylum for their spouse and unmarried children ages 21 and younger.
After a year, a person would be eligible to apply for a green card.
Filcik expects most Afghans to receive asylum. He adds evacuees went through an extensive vetting process when they landed in the United States. People without a verifiable connection to the country are being held at military bases across the country.
“It enables them to stay and work in the United States and really become parts of the communities that they’re living in,” said Filcik.
A layered process, the NALC program hopes it allows families to resettle safely and bring to an end a long journey.
“They are no different than what we are,” said Iliana Ponce, outreach program coordinator. “They’re apart of our community, so we want to make sure we’re continuing to support them the best way that we know how to.”
Volunteers are needed to help run the clinic.
No legal experience is required and the schedule is flexible.
To learn more, click here.