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Metro lawyers work on a tight deadline to help Afghan families navigate paperwork

Multiple legal agencies are working together to help families as they approach the one year deadline for required paperwork.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Many Afghan refugees in the metro are approaching the one-year anniversary of their arrival in the United States. This also marks an important deadline for their required documentation paperwork. 

"This is a time of a lot of stress in the Afghan community right now," said Ann Naffier, who works as the managing attorney for the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice

Her organization, along with the Drake Legal Clinic, Iowa Legal Aid and the Polk County Bar Association Volunteer Group have been working alongside refugee families to help them navigate the paperwork they need. 

These families can apply for three types of status including a special immigrant visa, temporary protected status or asylum. 

"Many Afghans will be applying for asylum," says Drake Law Refugee Clinic Co-Director Allison McCarthy. "Which is a path to permanent legal status in the United States and permanent protection."

"We've screened about 170 families," added Naffier. "And right now we have less than 15 pro bono attorneys who have stepped forward being willing to take on an asylum case. So clearly we have many, many families who right now do not have any representation."

And that heavy caseload comes as the clock is ticking down to many families' one-year deadline.

RELATED: Des Moines organization says Afghan refugees still need help, resources

"We can tell that the Afghan community is getting very concerned about this," said Naffier. "Because for many of them, their one year is coming up August 25, or maybe even sooner for some of them."

U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued a policy statement saying if someone arrived in the U.S. on parole status, they could apply for an extension. All Afghan people airlifted out of Kabul were granted parole. 

"However, it's not a sort of totally clear exception," said McCarthy. "And there's still some case-by-case evaluation that has to be done in each person's circumstances."

And if they don't meet the required deadline, it's their legal status and the hope of getting other family members safely out of Afghanistan that's at risk. 

"So we're really talking about our allies, possibly becoming undocumented immigrants in the United States," said Naffier. "And I just cannot believe that Americans or our elected officials want that to happen."

More legal experts and interpreters are needed. If those are skills you have and you'd like to help, reach out to the Drake Legal Clinic.

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