GARDEN CITY — Leaders in the effort to resettle Afghan refugees in Kansas say they are hopeful a law aimed at helping those refugees will pass.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran announced this month the reintroduction of the Afghan Adjustment Act. The bill, which was first presented two years ago, would provide immigration assistance to Afghans who aided U.S. and allied military forces during the 20-year war on terrorism in that region. Allied militaries withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, leading to a mass evacuation of Afghans from their home nation as the Taliban retook the country.

In southwest Kansas, about 150 Afghans are being assisted by Catholic Charities of Southwest Kansas, the leading resettlement agency in the region. Debbie Snapp, executive director of the Dodge City office, said most of those Afghans now live and work in Garden City. She said she’s hopeful the Afghan Adjustment Act passes, as it would provide refugees with more legal protections and more chances to bring their families to Kansas.

“We have a lot of individuals that came,” Snapp said. Men with families often came alone, “and many of them have their wives and children still in Afghanistan. Having the opportunity to get them here is extremely important as well.”

Snapp said passage of the Afghan Adjustment Act would also reduce the amount of immigration-related paperwork her staff must complete on behalf of arriving Afghan refugees. She said southwest Kansas is becoming more attractive to Afghans because of the lower cost of living compared with cities in other states. 

The major municipalities in the region — Dodge City, Garden City and Liberal — are also “making efforts” to be more welcoming to refugees, she said. Those efforts include discussions about sourcing halal meats that satisfy Afghans’ religious needs and talks of building a mosque in one of those three cities.

“Being able to achieve that is important (to the Muslim community),” Snapp said. “They have places to worship, but there’s not a dedicated mosque. There’s also no Muslim cemetery in this area, which is also important for that community.”

The legislation

The Afghan Adjustment Act would allow Afghans who are admitted to the U.S. with a temporary humanitarian status to apply for permanent legal residency with l

 

ess interference from the asylum system or the Special Immigrant Visa program — both of which are experiencing severe backlogs and lengthy processing times. 

It would also expand the Special Immigrant Visa to include previously omitted specialized military groups like the Female Tactical Platoon of Afghanistan and the Special Mission Wing of Afghanistan. Soldiers in both groups served alongside U.S. special forces during the two-decade conflict. The Female Tactical Platoon is composed of more than 100 Afghan women who have taken up arms against the Taliban since 2021. The Special Mission Wing is a swift response team that is a subset of the Afghan Air Force.

Additionally, the law would create a task force to develop methods for supporting Afghans outside of the U.S. who are eligible for the Special Immigrant Visa.

Moran said via email that he’s working with his Senate colleagues to address their concerns before many Afghans’ refugee status expires.

“This narrowly focused legislation would provide certainty to Afghan refugees while maintaining strong vetting processes to protect the homeland,” Moran wrote.

There are more than 880 Afghans who’ve resettled in Kansas since fall 2021, according to data collected by the Kansas Office for Refugees, and there are four regional agencies working to assist them. The Manhattan Afghan Resettlement Team (MART) has helped more than 200 — from single middle-aged men to families with multiple children — relocate in the Flint Hills. MART and other agencies provide housing, culinary, educational and financial jumpstarts for refugee families new to America.

‘A year behind’

Aaron Estabrook, co-founder of MART and a veteran of the Afghanistan War, said Congress is “a year behind” in passing the Afghan Adjustment Act. 

“This Adjustment Act should’ve happened a year ago,” Estabrook said. “Our allies in Afghanistan fought shoulder-to-shoulder to save our lives. To waste any more time handwringing about taking our first step in a long process is beneath the character that I believe we have to honor as Americans.”

In 2008, Estabrook served in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army as a sergeant in a tank platoon. He was tasked with choosing an interpreter for his team. He selected a man named Matiullah Shinwari, and Estabrook credits Shinwari with saving his life and the lives of his fellow soldiers on more than one occasion. Today, Shinwari lives in Manhattan, Kansas, and helps his fellow Afghans adjust to life in the state. He and Estabrook remain close friends.

Estabrook said Sen. Moran’s office was a major help in bringing Shinwari and his family to the U.S. in 2017. Now, state and national politicians need to keep up with progress made on the resettlement front locally, he added.

“We need politicians who are envisioning what America looks like in 30, 40, 50 years, and what the makeup of the labor force will be,” Estabrook said.