JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — One local Afghan woman says her family is in hiding, and she spent weeks trying to find help filling out the humanitarian parole paperwork that would bring them to Jacksonville.
After sharing her story, it inspired local organizations to host a legal aid event to help Afghan families.
It has been over a month since the last American troops left Afghanistan, and the turmoil that followed has left many local Afghan families worried about their loved ones overseas.
“They’re just in hiding and they’re afraid, they fear for their life. You just never know if you walk out of your house if you’ll be able to come back to it, and to your family," said Ali.
Ali is using a nickname out of fear. She says she visited Afghanistan in July, right before the US withdrawal and Taliban takeover. Since then she’s been trying to get her family out of the country.
“I call them every week just to keep them updated and just to let them know that we’re trying," said Ali.
Ali reached out to multiple organizations including the United Nations but found few resources to help families file the hundreds of forms needed for Humanitarian Parole.
“Its so hard the forms and just the legal terms and everything that’s required in order to make this process happen. It was really difficult for me to do it just on my own," said Ali.
From those obstacles, an idea grew, an event to help families navigate the paperwork.
The Northeast Florida Afghan Response Task Force, from the American Immigration Lawyers Association planned a two-day event at the University of North Florida to do just that.
“So we are providing a bridge, from a very dire situation for a lot of individuals, to get to the United States of America where they can make a better life and be safe," said Christopher Dempsey, DEMPSEY LAW.
“We have doctors, we have nurses, we have engineers, we have teachers, who have been here who have settled here who have made Jacksonville, their home, who have invested…in, in our local community, and their families are still abroad. And so, you know, as much as they've invested in us now it's our turn to invest in them," said Andrea Reyes, Reyes Legal.
While US visas can take months even years to finalize, humanitarian parole applications can be filed in days. The vetting process is still the same, and families must provide a myriad of documents including proof of finical sustainability, and evidence of character.
In UNF classrooms, attorneys gave free legal advice and finalized humanitarian parole petitions for nearly 100 Afghan Families. More than 100 UNF students volunteered to help.
The hope is to help Afghan families like Ali’s leave dangerous conditions overseas.
“I told them that I wouldn’t stop, that I wouldn’t give up on them, and that there are better tomorrows," said Ali.
Application fees are nearly $575 per family member, so donations are being collected to help Afghan families reconnect with their loved ones. Email email@example.com for more information.
The Northeast Florida Afghan Response Task Force is also working on becoming a 501C3 non-profit to make these donations tax-deductible.