With much uncertainty, Catholic Charities
offers ways for community to help Afghans

Afghan refugees at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Va., board buses Sept. 2, 2021, that will take them to a processing center. (CNS photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)

The close to 200 people who participated in a video conference hosted by Catholic Charities Sept. 2 learned there are many uncertainties surrounding the resettling of Afghans in the city.

But the participants were also told that they are needed to provide hands-on help, in-kind and financial support and advocacy when those fleeing Afghanistan do arrive.

Maria Koerner, assistant director of the Kentucky Office for Refugees, was on the panel that shared information with those who participated in the session.

Koerner told listeners that the situation surrounding Afghan evacuees is very “fluid” and that those involved in the process are still “figuring things out.”

Koerner said about 50,000 Afghans have arrived already in the country and are being received at U.S. Army bases nationwide.

On the Army bases, they are quarantined, undergoing medical screenings and going through a process of applying for work authorization and social security cards, said Colin Triplett, director of Catholic Charities’ Migration and Refugee program. Triplett was also on the Sept. 2 panel.

The number of Afghans Kentucky will receive is undetermined, said Koerner.

There’s a “potential number” that resettlement agencies have determined they can handle, she said.

As of now, Kentucky can receive 775 — 350 in Louisville, 125 in Lexington, 200 in Bowling Green and 100 in Owensboro. When any will arrive is also uncertain, she said.

“It could be in the coming days or weeks, but none has arrived yet,” said Koerner.

The “big uncertainty” is what benefits Afghans will be eligible to receive when they do arrive, since they are not considered refugees, said Koerner.

Lisa DeJaco Crutcher, CEO of Catholic Charities, said Afghans are considered either “parolees or evacuees.”

“Parolees are people given permission to enter the U.S. Evacuees are people being evacuated from their country of origin,” said DeJaco Crutcher.

Though each status represents a person in need — from asylum seeker to immigrant to refugee to evacuee — each qualifies for different benefits, Koerner explained.

Ways to help

Afghans will not qualify for federal benefits such as medicare, the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), said Koerner. The federal government is currently determining a way for them to access more benefits, she said.

Triplett said Afghans will qualify for “initial” benefits, such as housing, and Catholic Charities will help them register children in schools.

They will not have long-term benefits, such as help with job placement and English language support — things that would put them on a path to self-sufficiency, Triplett said.

That’s where the community can help, he said, listing the following ways to assist Afghans:

  • Offer jobs with competitive wages in warehouses and manufacturing.
  • Provide long-term support with English language skills working one on one or leading a class.
  • Provide transportation to medical and employment appointments, which can provide “meaningful interaction” and require no language ability.
  • Offer material donations of household items, such as kitchen tables, shower curtains, trash cans and new beds. They are not accepting clothing.
  • Provide large living spaces, such as single-family homes or apartments in Jefferson County.
  • Parish groups or community groups can sponsor individual families, which includes setting up an apartment, picking up new arrivals at the airport and mentoring them.
  • Make financial donations.

Advocacy

While meeting the needs of arriving families will be important, panelists noted, advocacy from a legal perspective is also needed, said Rebecca Sim, who serves as director of Catholic Charities’ immigration legal services department.

Sim said Afghans coming into the U.S. as parolees will have legal status for two years and employment authorization, but no path to permanent U.S. residency or citizenship. The only option they’ll have to remain legally in the country permanently is to file for asylum.

Federal legislators are preparing to introduce a bill in Congress that would allow Afghans to adjust their parolee status and clear a path to obtain permanent legal status in the country. Sim encouraged those who dialed into the information session to call their representatives or senators and urge them to support such a bill.

DeJaco Crutcher added that individuals can also help by making financial donations to help with the legal process.

To donate to Catholic Charities, visit https://cclou.org/donate/.

Ellen Hauber, who serves as director of development at Catholic Charities, said individuals who are interested in donating and getting up-to-date information should visit https://cclou.org/afghanistan/.

There they can fill out a form indicating how they can help and leave their contact information. Someone from Catholic Charities will contact them when more information is available, she said.

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