News & Views

How You’ve Helped

Dear HIAS PA Supporter,

On Monday, HIAS PA held our 3rd annual day of advocacy in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We took the time to provide a more in depth look at the work that we have done with two populations in crisis and to discuss ways we can advocate together for relief for them as well as for the thousands of other immigrants we help every year.

January marks the sixth month since Kabul fell and the seventh month since Haiti was thrown into chaos after their President was murdered and another earthquake shook the country. I want to bring you up to speed on the status of the people we have welcomed, the work we have done in the final chaotic months of 2021, and what lies ahead.

Since August 2021, HIAS PA has welcomed more than 100 Afghans to Philadelphia (in addition to Congolese, Ukrainians, Iraqis, and Syrians, to name a few.) Normally, we resettle between 50 and 80 people during that time period but through the support of many of you, we were able to welcome close to double that amount. As challenging as welcoming such a high volume of people in such a short time has been, it would have been that much more of a crisis had we not received your compassionate and enthusiastic support.

As with all the different cultures we serve, the Afghan population has unique needs. While most refugees are stuck for months or years in a refugee camp, the Afghan newcomers ended up losing their country and their homes overnight and found themselves having to adjust to life in the United States after merely 20 or 30 days at an American military base. Additionally, Afghans are highly family oriented. In the chaos of the U.S. evacuation, they were separated from family members and shuttled to a military base far from where they would ultimately be resettled.

For HIAS PA, we often only had hours’ notice of a new arrival, leaving our staff no time to arrange for permanent housing. While our newcomers stayed in hotels or Airbnbs, our staff scoured the city until we could secure appropriate affordable housing. Your immediate support during this crisis gave us the resources to find a suitable home, make sure every family was safe, had warm clothes, access to familiar food, medical care, and legal counsel for the long citizenship journey ahead.

Despite these challenges, our clients have been patient with us and grateful for what we can give them. They have optimism for their own future, despite the worry, anxiety, and fear for loved ones who got left behind.

Today no American airlines are flying into or out of Afghanistan. Furthermore, Afghans, even if they make it out of Afghanistan to another country, cannot board a plane headed for the United States without a passport. But the passport offices in Afghanistan have been shut down since November of 2021 and there does not appear to be any plans to reopen them. Currently, the United States is not issuing any entry visas to Afghans overseas despite hundreds of pending applications and millions of dollars in collected fees. We have convened, along with other local immigrant advocates and organizations, meetings with members of Congress to address these issues and demand that Congress and President Biden do something to reunite the Afghan families that got separated, and who are currently being threatened and assaulted by the Taliban because of their connection to the American military. To date, however, our efforts are insufficient and the families remain separated.

The Haitians are another community that faces unique challenges, mostly due to discriminatory U.S. immigration laws. Haitians who remain in Haiti or who have escaped to other countries aren’t, with few exceptions, eligible for asylum. Haitians who are here may be eligible for temporary protected status (TPS), but this is not a pathway to citizenship. The Haitian community has lived here for many decades – long before the current crisis. Haitian immigrants came to this country and made a life here. They married, they built businesses, they paid taxes, and they had American children. The time is long past for our government to create a pathway to citizenship, to stop purposely keeping people in limbo and rendering them vulnerable.

While we advocate, we continue our outreach to the Haitian community. We have provided several legal presentations in Haitian Creole, have participated in resource fairs for the community, undertaken immigration legal representation, and because of your encouragement and financial support, are in the process of hiring a Creole-speaking case manager soon to provide emergency relief.

We have many people to serve and injustices to fight. We are grateful to have you by our side.

With my best wishes for a happier and healthier new year,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson

Executive Director, HIAS Pennsylvania

P.S. Want to do more? For more updated information on Afghanistan and Haiti, click here.