Congress Passes Merkley Provision to Smooth Landing for Afghan Evacuees in U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today announced that both houses of Congress have passed a provision proposed by Merkley to help ease the transition to the U.S. for recently evacuated Afghan refugees who are relocating to America.

Last week, Merkley introduced the WELCOMED Act to fix a technicality that that is preventing many Afghan evacuees from accessing services that traditionally aid refugees with getting settled and beginning a new life in America. That proposal was incorporated into this week’s Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded until December, which both the House and the Senate passed today with bipartisan support. President Biden is expected to sign the legislation into law imminently to prevent a government shutdown. 

“During 20 years of U.S. military presence, thousands of Afghans put their own lives on the line to aid the United States and build a better future for their country,” said Merkley. “Honoring those risks and sacrifices by helping them rebuild their lives in the U.S. is not only the morally right thing to do, it will also benefit communities across our nation if we help them do so successfully. Refugees contribute enormously to the economies of the communities where they relocate, and we should do everything in our power to help our Afghan allies get off to a strong start in their new homes. I’m pleased that Congress acted swiftly to fix this problem, and will continue to advocate both for the Afghan refugees who are making America home and for robust humanitarian aid to those still in Afghanistan.”

Because the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan made rapid evacuations out of the country critical for Afghans who had aided America during the war, many Afghan evacuees have recently arrived in the U.S. on humanitarian parole or other expedited status. Because these evacuees have not formally been granted refugee status yet, they have not been made eligible for standard refugee services. Merkley’s proposal, once enacted, will change the wording of America’s refugee policies so that rescued Afghans who were paroled into the U.S. would be eligible for the same basic services and resources that are typically made available to newly arriving refugees in America. This includes reception and placement services that would equip these evacuees—many of whom fled quickly and arrived with virtually nothing—with the basic money and resources to resettle themselves and their families in the United States.

Merkley’s office worked extensively with eligible Afghans to help them evacuate where possible, and is now assisting with the refugee resettlement process for evacuees with Oregon ties. Last week, Merkley also announced that the U.S. Treasury Department enacted a policy that he had proposed in August, which will help increase the flow of humanitarian aid into the country.