APPLETON, Wis. — This was supposed to be a snapshot of the future.

Waris Samsoor was at the Division of Motor Vehicles to take his written test for his temporary driver’s license. An Afghan refugee, he came to the U.S. after the U.S. military pulled out of Afghanistan in August 2021. He had worked for the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. military as an immigration officer at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul and evacuated out of the country, along with his wife and children.

What You Need To Know

  • Thousands of Afghans evacuated to the U.S. last year don't know if they will be allowed to stay

  • The Wisconsin Council of Churches has raised and donated money to help Afghan refugees on a variety of front

  • To learn more or how you can help, go to:

This late afternoon appointment at the DMV was the continuation of his new life. He had landed a job with Presto Products working the assembly line and was taking classes to learn English at the Fox Valley Literacy Council. A driver’s license would allow him more independence and less reliant on others, which is all he wanted.

“It took us a good 2-and-half hours to go through every single question,’’ said Rachel Robbins, a native of Iran and Samsoor’s translator through Fox Valley Literacy. “Every question, every answer had to be translated.

“They were extremely supportive and very patient and allowed us to work through the translation together and he passed, which was so exciting. The whole place was cheering for us.’’

Another important milestone achieved, amidst a captive audience, no less. So you ask Samsoor about that future, the opportunity it presents for his children, the possibilities that exist for him, and the ability to live in peace.

But he doesn’t offer as much as a grin. It’s more a blank stare. Clearly, something disconcerting is brewing inside.

“His heart and mind are very troubled about not having the stability of what’s going to happen, whether they’re going to give him asylum or not,’’ his translator, Robbins, said. “When he was in Kabul, he was hand-in-hand with the U.S. military when it came to immigration. He helped arrest a lot of mafia people, and some Taliban people who were trying to get through illegally.

“So should his case not go through next year, let’s say he has to go back. His problem is not just the Taliban back in his own country which, they would most assuredly find him. They’ve already gone through his house looking for him. But the people he helped the U.S. military arrest when they came through. They were in prison prior to the Taliban coming. But with the Taliban coming, they’re out. So he is a known entity. You can only imagine his anxiety. He’s going back to certain death.’’

Samsoor has seen first-hand the work of the Taliban. Prior to the U.S. coming to Afghanistan 20 years ago, his family was forced to flee to Pakistan. But not everyone made it. The Taliban killed his father.

Samsoor’s situation is much the same for thousands of Afghans brought to this country by the U.S. government. It is complex. It is confusing. It is not fast moving.

Following the chaotic American withdrawal, most Afghans paid a filing fee, applied for, and were given short-term status in the U.S. known as humanitarian parole. Then in March, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Afghan refugees already here could apply for and, after passing a background check, receive temporary protective status for 18 months.
TPS status, which Samsoor is under, protects Afghans from having to return to their country because of unsafe conditions, and also prevents them from being detained or deported. However, it does not provide a path to LPR, lawful permanent residence, or U.S. citizenship.

DHS can extend TPS status if it deems at the end of 18 months the situation in Afghanistan remains unsafe. However, if a new administration takes over in Washington after the 2024 presidential election, it could have a different view of the situation and change the rules or revoke TPS status, putting refugees back in limbo.

DHS said of the estimated 76,000 Afghan refugees who were admitted following the U.S. withdrawal, about 40% will qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa. Those would be Afghans who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces as a translator or interpreter for at least one year. It also provides a path to lawful permanent residence and U.S. citizenship.

As for the other 60%?

“Because of the way they were brought into this country by our own government, they have to apply for asylum,’’ said the Rev. Peder Johanson, Volunteer Coordinator, Afghan Refugee Response for the Wisconsin Council of Churches. “As I’ve talked with some of the resettlement folks that I work with, asylum is the most difficult way to become a citizen in the United States.”

Afghan refugees must apply for affirmative asylum — for persons not in removal proceedings — within one year of arrival with the United States Citizen and Immigration Services. While that process used to take years to get an interview, Congress has instructed USCIS to interview Afghan evacuees no later than 45 days after they apply for asylum and issue a final decision within 150 days.
So the clock is ticking.

In Wisconsin, Johanson said there are roughly 900 Afghans that need to apply for asylum. Because the system is overwhelmed, Johanson said Catholic Charities of Milwaukee and its legal immigration service has been working with the State Bar of Wisconsin to recruit and train attorneys willing to volunteer to work these cases pro bono.

“And I just recently learned that they have over 120 pro bono attorneys from across the state that have signed up to do this,’’ said Johanson, noting they still need more.

However, if USCIS does not approve a refugee’s case, then it goes to immigration court where the backlog of cases has become untenable.

According to a story on in January, there are 1.6 million people caught in the backlog in U.S. immigration court. And those with open immigration cases must now wait on a decision determining their legal status for an average of 58 months — nearly five years.

Another potential avenue is the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill hung up in Congress. It would allow certain Afghan evacuees to apply for permanent status after one year of being paroled into the country. It was initially included into a Ukraine spending bill package, but removed by Republican concerns about vetting as well as a desire to move money to Ukraine as fast as possible.
Advocates say it would not likely pass as a stand-alone bill.

“It’s bleak,’’ said Johanson. “Everybody (from resettlement agencies) that I’ve talked to, they’re not counting on it passing anytime soon. And that’s why everyone is working as hard and as fast as they can to get these applications in and make sure that everybody is able to apply for asylum and receive asylum.”

It’s hard to imagine thousands of Afghans, who worked side-by-side with the U.S. military, would be brought to this country only to be sent back to face imminent death, advocates for their asylum said.

“Yeah, I mean, I have to have hope we’re not going to do that,’’ said Johnson. “We’re not going to be sending anybody back.
“But as long as they’re in parole or TPS, you know, their future is uncertain. And so that’s where that anxiety comes from.”


When Samsoor and his wife first came to Appleton, they were brought to the house that was rented for him. When they stepped inside, Samsoor’s wife broke down and cried.

They were not tears of joy.

“She just wept,’’ Samsoor told Robbins, his interpreter. “The case worker asked her, ‘What’s wrong? Why are you crying?’ Her response was, ‘How is this going to work?’ Basically not knowing this place and just the overwhelming feeling of loneliness. She said, ‘This is not home.’ She wept a lot.’’

But it wasn’t long when those tears evaporated.

“They found the people here to be nothing but kind,” Samsoor told Robbins. “Just kindness from every direction — the case workers, the volunteers, they’ve received a lot of love and kindness from the people here.”

If it were up to Samsoor, he would one day return to a peaceful Afghanistan — return to be with his mother, his two brothers and sister.

“Live there, and live for (Afghanistan), and work for it. That is his biggest desire,’’ Samsoor told Robbins. “But if that’s not going to be the case, and things are going to continue with unsettledness and unrest, then he would prefer (his entire family) being with him in safety here.”

Many of us dream about the future and the hopes and possibilities it may bring.

Waris Samsoor said he tries, but can’t really do that.

“He’s excited about the future but it’s not promised to him because his status is not there,’’ said Samsoor told Robbins. “You can only imagine. If they decided next year they have to go back, they have to go back.”

And they know what would await them. You can only imagine.


Story idea? You can reach Mike Woods at 920-246-6321 or at