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While the U.S. air lift out of Kabul has ended efforts to resettle tens of thousands of Afghans in the U.S., well, that's only just begun. And already they're facing some very big obstacles. NPR's Joel Rose reports.
JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: After landing at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., a few dozen Afghan evacuees climb onto a waiting charter bus in front of the terminal. Some stop to throw a backpack or a small suitcase into the luggage compartment. Others appear to have nothing but the clothes they're wearing. All of them look exhausted after traveling for days or weeks. One thing these new arrivals do have is questions. That's according to a translator named Sahil who asked that we use only his last name because his own brothers are still trying to escape from Afghanistan.
SAHIL: Yeah, most of the people ask questions around - like, where are we going? What are we going to do? But most of the time, we don't have an answer for that.
ROSE: Those questions aren't easy for anyone to answer - not the U.S. officials tasked with vetting and processing these Afghans, and not the nonprofit organizations that work to resettle them around the country. It's a massive challenge for a refugee resettlement system that was decimated under the Trump administration.
CHRIS GEORGE: The honest answer is we are not ready, but we're going to get ready.
ROSE: Chris George is the head of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in Connecticut. After four years of sharply declining refugee admissions, agencies like his suddenly have to scale up fast.
GEORGE: The alternative is not acceptable. We have to welcome these people.
ROSE: The numbers are huge. More than 30,000 Afghans have landed in the U.S. so far. For now, most are staying at military bases around the country. There are still thousands more at bases around the world.
KRISH O'MARA VIGNARAJAH: The next big challenge will be moving families from these military bases, which are only meant for temporary processing, to their final destination.
ROSE: Krish O'Mara Vignarajah is the head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services. She says a big part of that challenge is navigating U.S. immigration law. Some Afghans have applied for special immigrant visas or SIVs for translators who worked with U.S. forces. Others may qualify as refugees, but Vignarajah says the majority may not fit in either of those categories. So immigration authorities are relying on what's known as humanitarian parole to let them in. Vignarajah says that comes with its own set of challenges.
VIGNARAJAH: When you come in as an SIV or a traditional refugee, there is a well-established social safety net. For those who are coming under humanitarian parole, it really is a temporary status, and there is no automatic benefits that they're entitled to.
ROSE: So refugee advocates are pushing the Biden administration to find more money to help plug the gaps and to process these Afghans quickly. But critics of refugee resettlement question whether the U.S. should be accepting these evacuees at all. Here's former White House advisor Stephen Miller, who is widely seen as the architect of the Trump administration's push to slow refugee and SIV resettlement, speaking this week on Fox News.
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STEPHEN MILLER: If you bring in several provinces worth of individuals from Afghanistan, you will replicate the conditions in Afghanistan here in the United States of America and all the horrors that entails.
ROSE: But public polling shows broad support for resettling Afghan allies in the U.S. And any possible backlash is far from the mind of this Afghan man who recently resettled in the U.S. with his family.
A A: When I took first flight from Kabul to here, I just feel that I am now safe.
ROSE: A.A. worked as an interpreter for U.S. forces in Kandahar. He doesn't want us to use his full name because his parents and other family members are still in Afghanistan. A.A. was lucky. He got a special immigrant visa and landed in the U.S. a little over a month ago. He says everybody he's met so far in Connecticut has been welcoming.
A A: When I am going outside for shopping, when somebody ask me that you are from where, I just say from Afghanistan. So they are so surprised. They are so happy about us, that we came here.
ROSE: Refugee advocates say they've also seen a huge outpouring of support and offers to help. They say they will need all of that and more in the coming weeks.
Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.