When the United States withdrew from Afghanistan in August of 2021, hundreds of thousands of Afghans who had been assisting the U.S. military were left in the war-torn country without security. Most Americans likely remember the horrifying images on the tarmac in Kabul as fearful Afghans chased planes and begged for transportation to safety. They knew that if they stayed, they would likely face a death sentence as the Taliban declared victory in the 20-year conflict.
From August 2021 to March 2022, 75,000 Afghans came to the United States, 3,000 of which made their way to Colorado. A legal crisis ensued. While they were granted a temporary humanitarian parole status and were able to legally work, they did not have a clear path to get a permanent green card or legal status and they had only a year to formally apply for asylum, a complicated and expensive legal process.
With months of planning underway, Tracy Harper, Afghan Program Managing Attorney at Catholic Charities of Denver led the way to support displaced Afghans who had settled in Colorado.
Harper developed a workshop model that relied on volunteers to connect and provide individuals with legal and human services.
In July 2023, two years after the journey began, the Denver Bar Association (DBA) named the Afghan Asylum Workshop effort as Outstanding Project of the year.
“The most amazing part of this project was seeing the outpouring of support from the community in Colorado. People from all walks of life – students, professionals, and retirees, attorneys and non-attorneys – signed up for our five-hour training and came to all-day Saturday workshops to help Afghans prepare their applications for asylum,” shared Tracy Harper, managing attorney of the Afghan project at Catholic Charities of Denver. “We had volunteers from every background. Everyone agreed that we had a responsibility to help the Afghan community lawfully remain safe in the U.S.”
It was an extremely difficult endeavor to interest, train, and utilize volunteers from a multitude of different backgrounds. Harper and her team were constantly “thinking on their feet” to ensure that those who came to dedicate time to the project were given tasks that were within their scope of expertise, yet still rewarding to perform.
Over the course of eight months, 604 asylum applications were prepared, confirming that the workshops were an incredible success. Every day, the number of applications approved grows. For Tracy and her small team, the work is not finished.
“There are still so many people that we meet who have loved ones facing extreme danger in Afghanistan. It is an impossible task to save everyone, but we are going to do the very best we can with the resources we have,” said Harper
The DBA’s Outstanding Project award serves as a testament to the human spirit, and dedication of Catholic Charities of Denver, inspiring others to join the mission to provide a safe and welcoming community for those seeking a fresh start.
“Last year was one of the most exhausting and satisfying years of my life. I felt, and still believe, that this Project was The Thing I was put on Earth to do. I hope I can continue to look back and share with my kids – who are currently too young to understand – that when I was called to action, I stood up and did my part,” said Harper.