Chicago Immigration Groups Scramble to Resettle Afghan Refugees

United States defense officials have made it official: the 20-year war in Afghanistan is over. On Monday, the last military evacuation flights left Kabul. 

The White House says more than 116,000 people have so far been evacuated since the drawdown of American troops. But not everyone has been able to escape.

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Hundreds of Afghan refugees could settle in the Chicago area, and local immigrant groups are working around the clock to try and make that happen.

Cash Fazal as is Chicago-based Afghan American immigration lawyer. She says she’s working to get 150 refugees out of Afghanistan because she fears they may not have long to live.

“If they continue to remain in Afghanistan — some of my clients’ information has been compromised, so the Taliban, ISIS and Al Qaeda are tracking down individuals every day and killing them,” Fazal said.

Fazal says she’s secured or is in the process of securing special visa status for most of her clients, but last week’s deadly suicide bombing that killed 13 American service members and hundreds more civilians has made passage to the Kabul airport nearly impossible. 

“They’re not allowing anyone even near the parameters outside of the airport, so a lot of families have been sent home,” Fazal said.

On Monday, a coalition of immigrant and refugee organizations along with Illinois public officials said they would do everything they could to successfully resettle Afghans who worked with U.S. forces. They say they anticipate 500 relocating to Chicago.

“Chicago is a welcoming city,” said Chicago Chief Engagement Officer Martina Hone. “Mayor Lightfoot believes unequivocally and profoundly in everything that that term means.”

But the groups are calling on President Joe Biden and Congress to expedite the special immigrant visa process — not only for Afghan allies, but their families that remain in danger.

“Fulfilling our promise to those who risked their lives to save American lives is not simply something we should do, it’s something we must do,” said Jims Porter of Refuge One.

Fazal says it’s already too late for one of her clients. He was killed last week by the Taliban after receiving a U.S. visa from the embassy in Kabul. She says the Taliban attempted to extort him.

Cash Fazal, a Chicago-based Afghan American immigration lawyer, speaks with “Chicago Tonight.” (WTTW News)Cash Fazal, a Chicago-based Afghan American immigration lawyer, speaks with “Chicago Tonight.” (WTTW News)

“He went back home, obtained the money, came back and they followed him and then they targeted him and killed him,” Fazal said.

Sima Quraishi runs the Muslim Women Resource Center in Chicago. She says she is not only worried for refugee clients of hers, but an Afghan American employee of hers who is trapped on the ground in Kabul.

“His Afghan American wife and his six-months son are counting the minutes for his safe arrival, but he has no clear path to safety,” Quraishi said.

And the refugee groups say time is running short as the U.S. and other coalition countries wind down their evacuation efforts.

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Meanwhile, 17 members of the Chicago City Council on Monday signed a letter addressed to President Joe Biden, saying that the city stands ready to help federal agencies resettle Afghans in Chicago.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

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