Toddlers and young children skipped through the hallways of the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho in Nampa the evening of Aug. 18. They came and went from a packed banquet room, where their parents and families shared dinner, fresh baklava and tea, and talked about their former home, Afghanistan, and their current home, Idaho.
Most of the people in the room were Afghan refugees or military veterans — or both.
The dinner was an event hosted by several Idaho nonprofit and business organizations that support refugee resettlement and local members of the Afghan diaspora.
It was timely, organizers said. Congress has before it a bill that would offer more than temporary safe haven to people who were evacuated from Afghanistan last year.
“Without legislation like this, many of (them) are in limbo, as their humanitarian parole status allowing them to live in the U.S. is only good for a period of two years,” Idaho Office for Refugees spokesperson Holly Beech said in an email to the Idaho Capital Sun.
“They can and are applying for asylum, but that can take several years to process,” she said.
U.S. Congress could give some Afghans permanent legal status
The Afghan Adjustment Act is a bipartisan bill introduced in the U.S. House and Senate. It would allow the tens of thousands of Afghans who arrived in the U.S. after the American military withdrawal from Afghanistan to have more than a temporary legal status.
Eligible Afghans could apply for permanent residence, after they pass background checks and have lived here one or two years.
Three men who likely would be in that group were at the event, sharing their experiences evacuating Afghanistan and arriving in Idaho during the past year.
Habibullah Amani, Hamed Sanai and Bashir Naderi spent years as pilots in Afghanistan.
“Thank you to all the U.S. military personnel that helped us during 20 years of war against terror, a war for humanity,” Amani told the crowd. “We grew up in that war after high school” and fought shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops, he said.
Because of their military service, the men were at risk of retaliation by the Taliban. At least 30 of their fellow servicemen have been killed since they left, Sanai said.
Sanai was able to bring his family to Boise, but family members who remain in Afghanistan cannot work or participate in society, the men said.
Amani had to leave behind his wife and daughter. He says they’re now forced to move from place to place, to make it harder for the Taliban to find them.
When the men arrived, they had no trouble finding jobs in construction, retail or working for friends, they said.
But with the cost of housing at record highs, it has become more difficult to settle in the once-affordable Boise area. Those who arrived in Idaho without their families lived in a hotel for several months before they found a house to share.
They send all the money they can back to Afghanistan to help their families afford to live without them.
The men said Idahoans have welcomed them with warmth and generosity.
Still, their future is in limbo.
“Some of us, we have families back home,” Amani said. “It’s not just an easy process or normal process” to bring them to the U.S., he said.
“This really hits home after getting to know some of the amazing people who had to evacuate and are now rebuilding their lives in Idaho,” Beech said. “We want to see them be able to achieve their dreams and not have such a heavy weight to carry.”