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Rescuing Relatives in War Torn Countries

Our neighbor Ali was talking with his family and friends a couple days before Ramadan, when I walked by. They invited me to sit with them, and have sweet tea and cookies. The tea is served in a small glass too hot to hold unless you balance the edges on your fingers. Ali, his wife, and their friends from across the street were talking in Arabic, which I don’t understand, so I watched their expressions, listened to the timbre of their voices, and heard the occasional word that sounds like English, or cities in Iraq I’ve heard on the news.

Ali turned to me. “The situation in Iraq is very bad. My cousin was killed in Tikrit by the insurgents. I’ve been trying for some time to get my mother and father out, but now with the embassy starting to close, that’s not looking likely at this point.” The US Embassy in Baghdad has relocated some Embassy staff, and the Embassy’s Consular Section has temporarily suspended routine visa services.

When war strikes, Americans become anxious about relatives in the affected region. It’s horrendous. You want to hear your relatives survived this attack or that battle. You never want to hear that Uncle Hakim was killed, or even worse, not hear anything at all because your relatives are totally cut off by war from the outside world.

Scott E. Bratton, attorney and partner at Margaret W. Wong & Associates, commented on Ali’s situation, “Whether tourists, nonimmigrant workers, or immigrants, when a US embassy suspends its consular services, other regional embassies take over the duties. If the US Embassy is no longer processing travel visas, even for tourists, people can get those visas from the US Embassy in a neighboring country.”

A couple options for Ali’s relatives include having them travel to the US and applying for asylum once here, or applying for humanitarian parole. The latter is rarely granted, but in a special circumstance like war or a health crisis, it may be the only option.

USCIS says: “Anyone can file an application for humanitarian parole, including the prospective parolee, a sponsoring relative, an attorney, or any other interested individual or organization. You file a request for humanitarian parole using Form I-131, Application for Travel Document, along with Form I-134, Affidavit of Support,” and mail them to USCIS.

Bratton concluded by saying, “Some forms people can file themselves, but I really recommend you seek help from an immigration attorney for any of these immigration or non-immigration forms. The forms can be confusing, and attorneys deal with them daily, so we know the pitfalls.”

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