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Budget Crisis Looms as Akron Awaits Resettlement of Afghan Evacuees

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Akron has welcomed more than a dozen Special Immigrant Visa holders, also known as SIVs, who helped U.S. forces in Afghanistan. But the more than 150 Afghan evacuees have yet to be resettled in the city, according to the International Institute of Akron.

An Akron resettlement agency is expected to welcome 150 Afghan evacuees to the city in the coming months.

But advocates worry they may not have access to the same benefits as other refugees.

Madhu Sharma, executive director of the International Institute of Akron, said the State Department has designated the evacuees as humanitarian parolees, which at this point means they do not have a clear path to citizenship.

“So our goal really is to ensure that the budget includes the funding that will be needed to process all those individuals that are resettled to a status that at least puts them in the pathway to U.S. citizenship. That will be necessary or our work becomes even more uncertain,” Sharma said.

She said the looming budget showdown in Washington could complicate things even further.

“We’re pushing, really, for an Afghan adjustment act. So that once people arrive there will be quick and immediate pathway towards citizenship residency in the United States very similar to refugees. Refugees can apply for permanent residence one year after they arrive in the United States,” she said.

Sharma said a government shutdown in Washington could slow that process and even halt resettlement for refugees outside the Afghan evacuee program.

While the Biden administration has said it will substantially increase the number of refugees allowed in the country, he has yet to act.

Sharma said they have yet to resettle any of the 150 Afghan evacuees, but they have welcomed more than a dozen Special Immigrant Visa holders, or SIVs, who helped U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Unlike humanitarian parolees, Sharma said SIVs do have a path to citizenship.

Mark Arehart joined the award-winning WKSU news team as its arts/culture reporter in 2017. Before coming to Northeast Ohio, Arehart hosted Morning Edition and covered the arts scene for Delaware Public Media. He previously worked for KNKX in Seattle, Kansas Public Radio, and KYUK in Bethel, Alaska.