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Biden administration to allow private groups to sponsor Afghan evacuees

Afghan evacuees begin resettlement in U.S.
Afghan evacuees begin resettlement in U.S. 06:14

The Biden administration is set to unveil on Monday a program that would allow groups of private individuals to sponsor Afghan evacuees and help them resettle in communities across the U.S., three sources familiar with the plan told CBS News.

Under the new program, groups of at least five individuals could apply to become "sponsor circles" that would be responsible for helping evacuated Afghans secure housing, basic necessities, financial support, legal counsel and medical services for at least 90 days, according to a presentation describing the plan.

The sponsorship program would serve as an alternative to the traditional refugee resettlement process overseen by nine national agencies and their local affiliates, which facilitate the U.S. integration of immigrants fleeing violence and war around the globe.

Private sponsor groups would also be charged with enrolling Afghan children in U.S. schools; helping adults find jobs; assisting families with English-language translation; and making sure evacuees can access government programs designed to help newly arrived refugees.

The "Sponsor Circle Program" will be a joint initiative between the Department of State and the Community Sponsorship Hub, a non-governmental organization that will oversee online applications from prospective sponsors, a source familiar with the effort told CBS News. The hub will connect sponsors with Afghan families.

Potential sponsors would be required to pass background screenings; undergo online training; commit to raising funds for their efforts; develop a resettlement plan for Afghan families; and sign an agreement committing to support evacuees for at least 90 days.

Matthew La Corte, an immigration policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Niskanen Center, said a private sponsorship process for evacuated Afghans would enjoy bipartisan support and allow veterans' groups, college communities, diaspora organizations and other private entities to directly help resettlement efforts.

"That is precisely why it is the perfect time to launch private sponsorship, recognizing the needs of refugees, the limitations of resettlement agencies, and the far reach of the individuals, congregations, philanthropists, businesses, and foundations that crave direct sponsoring opportunities," La Corte wrote last month.

Groups seeking to sponsor Afghan families would need to raise $2,275 per evacuee.

The "sponsor circle" pilot for Afghans brought to the U.S. following the Taliban takeover of their homeland could pave the way for a broader private refugee sponsorship program, which the Biden administration has previously said it would like to implement this fiscal year.

"The Department of State, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, is developing a private sponsorship pilot program that it anticipates launching in early 2022," the administration said in its annual refugee report to Congress last month.

Refugee advocates have long called for a U.S. initiative that would mirror Canada's popular private refugee sponsorship program, arguing that private individuals and groups can help the government resettle more immigrants who qualify for humanitarian protection.

As of earlier this week, roughly 68,000 Afghan evacuees had arrived in the U.S. since August 17, according to Department of Homeland Security data. Because of the frantic nature of the evacuations from Kabul, most entered the country under a humanitarian immigration process known as parole, not as visa holders or traditional refugees. 

About 55,000 Afghan evacuees remain at eight domestic U.S. military sites, where they have been undergoing vaccination against the coronavirus and other diseases, as well as immigration paperwork.

Government and resettlement agency officials have been working on placing the evacuees in communities that can accommodate them. A major hurdle has been the limited affordable housing in places where many evacuees have family ties, including northern California and the Washington, D.C. suburbs.

To address this housing shortage, the Biden administration recently allowed resettlement groups to place Afghans with family members living in the U.S. and outside the typical 100-mile radius limit from a local resettlement office, a senior U.S. official told CBS News. 

It is also working to identify short-term housing options in popular destinations and encouraging evacuees to move to states like Oklahoma, the official added.

A source familiar with the private sponsorship process said the new program will also expand "the capacity to resettle arriving Afghans."

Natalie Brand contributed to this report.

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