How many Afghan refugees will come to Colorado? No one knows, but the state is ready

As crisis consumes their homeland, Colorado is one of a handful of states working to provide sanctuary for Afghan refugees

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President Joe Biden declared at the end of August that he was not going to extend the war in Afghanistan after the last U.S. troops were withdrawn from the country. As of September 9, evacuation flights resumed for U.S. citizens—but these flights are leaving people behind. At-risk Afghans are still waiting for permission to board evacuation flights, as well as those whose visas were approved but couldn’t get stamped at the U.S. Embassy, which remains shut down.

There are still fears that the Biden Administration might abandon a large number of Afghan allies.

“We will continue these efforts to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of American citizens, lawful permanent residents, and Afghans who worked for us and wish to leave Afghanistan,” National Security Council’s Emily Horne said in a statement about the evacuation flights. “Because there is an ongoing terrorist threat to operations of this nature, we will not be sharing details of these efforts before people are safely out of the country.”

As the world is waiting and watching to see what happens next, Colorado cities and officials are calling for action. Many Colorado officials, including Governor Jared Polis, Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver, and Denver City Council President Stacie Gilmore, signed a letter calling on the Biden Administration to “prioritize restoring our nation’s refugee resettlement infrastructure as quickly as possible and to fulfill [the] pledge to admit 125,000 refugees in Fiscal Year 2022.” The form is open to signatures until September 17.

Organizations in Denver have already started implementing plans to shelter refugees, helping them get through the legal immigration process and trying to ensure individuals’ family members get into the country. Four congressmen are urging the Department of Homeland Security to establish Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for these refugees risking their lives to find safety including Joe Neguse (D-Colorado) and Tom Malinowski (D-New Jersey).

Neguse is a child of African refugees, and Malinowski immigrated to the US as a child. In a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the congressmen asked for protection for Afghan parolees and those in the U.S. on student and visitor visas. The TPS designation would ensure Afghans who are currently in the U.S. would not be forced to return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

“The United States has long been a beacon of hope to refugees, it’s critical we maintain that position of moral authority at this consequential moment,” Congressman Neguse said in the letter. “Offering TPS to Afghans at risk will provide safety and stability and remove barriers for those still in Afghanistan who need a safe place to land.”

 “We still need to facilitate the transfer of vulnerable Afghans to the U.S. and protect Afghans that are already here from deportation,” Congressman Malinowski wrote. “TPS would ensure that we don’t force any Afghans back into a situation where their life would be at risk under Taliban rule.”

Since 2014, a total of 34,500 Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) have been allocated for Afghan principal applicants. This year an additional 8,000 were added under the Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act. With the State Department’s authority under the Afghan Allies Protection Act of 2009, they will continue to issue SIVs until they run out.

In preparation for more Afghan evacuees entering Colorado, organizations like Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains (LFSRM) are emphasizing the need for volunteers and donations. Colorado communities are showing an outpouring of support, but more resources are still needed. Dona Dalton, director of marketing and communications for LFSRM, says agencies across the country are working together to help support, inform, and provide basic supply essentials to refugees as they resettle into their new communities.
“We have limited storage and do not know at this time how many individuals will arrive,” Dalton says. “These families often arrive with few belongings and need housing, food, home goods, and other basics as they get on their feet.”

In Boulder, organizations like Colorado Sanctuary are assisting agencies working directly with refugees. Gregg Eisenberg is the executive director of the volunteer organization. His goal is to help organizations acquire the funding they need to continue helping refugees enter the country. The Denver chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) is the most recent organization he has set up fundraising events for. 

“We’ve hit a flashpoint on the subject of immigration and refugees. I think this is the beginning of the refugee crisis worldwide,” Eisenberg says. “More people will be displaced as time goes on, and Colorado is going to be a sanctuary.”
For many years, Colorado has welcomed Afghan refugees as well as refugees from other countries. Colorado Department of Human Services Deputy Director of Communication Madlynn Ruble says cross-agency partnerships led by the Office of New Americans, the Division of Emergency Management, and the Colorado Refugee Services Program are standing by to help. 

“Colorado is always ready and willing to resettle those in need based on resources available,”  Ruble says. “Our main focus right now is to bolster the ability of refugee resettlement agencies and their partners to meet the needs of newcomers, including through housing and employment assistance, to ensure that Afghan families are able to find safety, sanctuary, and opportunity here in Colorado.”

Governor Jared Polis has sent two letters this year to the Biden Administration urging the president to expedite solutions and act quickly to help Afghans who face increased threats and unsafe conditions.

“In Colorado, our state and local communities are proud partners in global humanitarian and refugee resettlement efforts, and Colorado has long partnered with the federal government to play our part. Our veteran community knows the value of the role these Afghans played overseas, and our greater Colorado community shares with you American values of humanitarianism and compassion,” Governor Polis wrote in the most recent letter. “Colorado stands ready.”