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Most Democrats and Republicans agree on need to help Afghan interpreters enter U.S., poll finds

Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants crowd into the Herat Kabul Internet cafe to apply for the SIV program on August 8, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Americans from both parties overwhelmingly support helping Afghan translators and others who aided the war effort enter the United States after the Taliban’s lightning fast takeover – a rare show of unity amid increasingly polarized domestic politics.

Overall, 81 percent of Americans said the United States should support Afghans who worked with U.S. troops and officials in recent years, according to the CBS News/YouGov poll published Sunday. Some 90 percent of Democrats and 76 percent Republicans were supportive of such efforts.

With the Taliban back in control, thousands of Afghans who worked as translators and in intelligence services alongside international troops could now face potential retaliation. Images of desperate Afghans thronging to the airport, some clinging and apparently falling from a U.S. military aircraft, led to passionate pleas from some prominent Democrats and Republicans to make resettling refugees, especially those who have aided the U.S., a top priority.

The poll also found that although 63 percent approved of the U.S. pulling troops out of Afghanistan, most said the withdrawal could have been better handled.

A plurality (44 percent) said the removal of troops had been handled “very badly" and 67 percent said President Biden had failed to show a “clear plan” for evacuating American civilians.

The CBS News/YouGov survey was conducted with a nationally representative sample of 2,142 U.S. adult residents interviewed between August 18 to 20, with a margin of error of plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

Suneeta’s husband, an interpreter for U.S. forces, disappeared in 2013. She made it to Albany, N.Y., as a refugee, but her four children are stuck in Kabul. (Video: Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

Imperiled for helping U.S. troops and stranded by bureaucracy, Afghan interpreters see Biden evacuation plan as last hope

Biden said Sunday that the United States and its partners had evacuated nearly 28,000 people from Afghanistan since Aug. 14, including 11,000 this weekend. He added that U.S.-led forces had expanded the perimeter of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, where people have been scrambling to board flights and flee Taliban rule.

The poll’s findings are striking given divisions over how to handle Afghan refugees that recently emerged among conservatives.

Several congressional Republicans have said the United States should welcome refugees fleeing the country to prevent a humanitarian crisis, especially Afghans who assisted the United States. “We need to care for them,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told a local Kentucky television station last week. “We owe it to these people, who are our friends and who worked with us, to get them out safely if we can.”

In Texas, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) offered his support and prayers to refugees, especially those granted special visas after assisting the U.S. military. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) also voiced his support despite advocating for limits on refugees in the past. “We have an obligation not to leave people to die at the hands of the Taliban for the crime of helping America," Cruz told reporters in Dallas last week. Several governors across the political spectrum also offered aid and messages that refugees would be welcome in their states.

But the nativist wing of the party, which backed President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, is warning that Afghan refugees could pose a security threat and is stoking fears about where they would settle in the United States.

“If history is any guide, and it’s always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions,” Fox News’s Tucker Carlson said last Monday. “So first we invade, and then we are invaded.”

Divisions emerge among Republicans over how to handle Afghan refugees

Last month, about 200 Afghan interpreters and their families arrived in Virginia, to be resettled across the county, in the first planned evacuations of thousands imperiled because of their work with the United States.

The Taliban, for its part, said in a June statement that former interpreters were not at risk, but should “show remorse.

They have also promised a general amnesty in recent days and sought to underscore that today’s Taliban is not the group the world remembered from the last time it came to power.

Yet there were reports of militants going house-to-house, seeking to root out Afghan security officials and people who may have worked with U.S. or NATO forces in major cities.

How to help Afghan refugees and those trapped during the Taliban takeover

The issue of aiding Afghan translators is not unique to the United States. The German government’s handling of its local staff and some 400 Afghans who had worked with the German military and other agencies has provoked harsh criticism in Germany. Ministries and officials have traded blame over why the country failed to act sooner on evacuations, piling on pressure ahead of tightly fought elections in September.

Elsewhere, speaking in Singapore on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris said the United States was “singularly focused” on evacuation efforts taking place in Afghanistan of both American citizens and "Afghans who have worked with us and Afghans who are vulnerable.”

John Wagner contributed to this report.