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A Year After Fall Of Kabul, LA Group Making Good Progress Resettling Afghan Refugees

About two dozen Afghan refugees line up for food at Fort Pickett in Virginia. A man in a shirt with horizontal blue and grey stripes has his back to the camera in the foreground. Three long two-story white barracks are in the background.
Afghan refugees line up for food in 2021 at Fort Pickett, a military facility in Virginia where many newly arrived Afghans were temporarily housed.
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Exactly one year after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul sparked a massive airlift of Afghan refugees to the U.S., many of those who arrived in Southern California have settled into their new lives, according to a resettlement group.

More than 80,000 Afghans arrived in the U.S., according to the Department of Homeland Security, and thousands came to California.

Local resettlement agencies, low on resources after years of immigration cutbacks under former President Trump, found themselves scrambling to get Afghan families housed and settled.

The International Institute of Los Angeles has resettled about 900 Afghan refugees, said Cambria Tortorelli, the agency’s president and CEO.

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“I think 98% of our clients are in housing, which is great,” she said. “And they're getting on with their lives. You know, kids are in school. They're getting jobs. They're learning English. They're doing all the things that they need to do to continue to make this transition.”

But there’s a lot left to do. Tortorelli said nearly 20 Afghan families the agency is working with are still being sheltered in local hotels due to a shortage of affordable housing.

And questions remain about many refugees’ long-term immigration status. While they became eligible for Temporary Protected Status earlier this year, most Afghans will need to seek asylum if they’re to obtain permanent legal status.

Resettlement agencies are racing the clock to make sure all those who arrived on humanitarian parole — a temporary protection set to expire next year — have the opportunity to apply for asylum quickly. They must apply within a year of their arrival to have the best chance of winning their case.

Beyond the asylum question, advocates are hoping for the passage of a bill introduced in Congress last week that would give Afghan refugees a clear path to permanent legal status and eventual citizenship.

The proposed legislation would work similarly to bills that have benefited Cuban, Vietnamese and Iraqi refugees in the past.

“That would be a game changer,” said Tortorelli. “Then our work would become helping them to apply for their green cards, which is a lot easier than applying for asylum.”

What questions do you have about immigration and emerging communities in LA?

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