In part because of terrible planning by the Biden administration, the withdrawal from Afghanistan is creating a humanitarian crisis, in the form of thousands and thousands of desperate refugees left stranded in a frantic effort to exit the country.
It’s likely that a broad coalition of groups in this country will support maximizing efforts to let in refugees who are in their desperate situation in no small part because of our country’s actions. Indeed, this coalition will likely turn out to be impressive.
Let’s take stock of who’s saying what. On Friday, Afghans For a Better Tomorrow and a large array of progressive groups will release a letter calling on President Biden to take very expansive action to facilitate a “bold open-door Afghan refugee policy, welcoming any Afghan seeking refuge and safe haven.”
The letter calls for specific policy changes. One is the expediting of processing of Special Immigrant Visas (SIV), a program for Afghans who were employed by or worked for the U.S. government. An estimated 18,000 people are in the process of applying but are backlogged. That can be fixed with various bureaucratic changes.
The letter also calls for the speeding up of processing for a category of Afghans who worked for nongovernmental organizations but aided the United States, and an expansion of it to women and girls. It demands temporary protected status for Afghans already here and an expansion of humanitarian parole and family reunification programs to include Afghans who don’t qualify for other programs.
The groups signing on to this letter represent a broad spectrum: They include not just progressive, pro-immigrant and antiwar groups like Win Without War, but also human rights, religious and war-skeptical veterans’ organizations.
“Our community rarely sees such a broad coalition of individuals and groups come together,” Arash Azizzada, the co-founder of Afghans For a Better Tomorrow, told me.
Marshaling a broad coalition is crucial, because it sends a message that this moment is freighted with great moral significance. “This is a rare moment that has shed light on a disaster in the making in Afghanistan,” Azizzada said, adding that it declares: “Now you must act.”
The types of ideas outlined above have support beyond this spectrum of organizations. A bipartisan group of senators has also released a letter calling for changes designed to facilitate acceptance of far more Afghan refugees.
These include similar provisions, such as the expediting and expansion of the SIV program, a strengthened appeals process for those rejected from it (you must meet various criteria), and more.
That letter, which is led by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), is also signed by three Republican Senators: Joni Ernst (Iowa), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Susan Collins (Maine).
It’s hard to say how many Republicans will ultimately support changes such as these, or where most Republicans will come down on the broader question of how many Afghan refugees we should admit.
But it’s notable that the law that created the current version of the SIV program got broad bipartisan support. There’s a reason for this: Generally the people who it’s supposed to benefit worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government, and that has put them in grave danger.
Even Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), one of the Trumpiest Republicans in Congress, supports doing something for Afghan refugees. As Politico’s Marc Caputo reports in a good piece, a split has opened up among Republicans and Trump loyalists over how far to go for them, and here’s what Gaetz has to say:
“In my district, it’s a kitchen-table issue,” Gaetz said. “There are people over there who have kept my constituents alive — not 100,000 of them; the several thousand who had hot lead flying at them, too. That’s not my hyperbole. That’s the reality.”
Well said, Mr. Gaetz. Similarly, because these Afghans aided the U.S. military, another Republican tells Caputo, this issue stirs “a lot of mixed feelings" among conservatives. That may prove especially true among those with connections to the military or a lot of military in their districts.
But none of this disturbs former Trump advisers like Stephen Miller, who suggests there aren’t many Afghans left stranded who helped the United States, or Steve Cortez, who issued a despicable tweet depicting a planeload of Afghan refugees that snarked: “Raise your hand if you want this plane landing in your town?”
Meanwhile, Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who apparently aspires above all to be Trump’s favorite knee puppet, tweeted that he wants to hear “hear zero about Afghan refugees until we get every single American out first.”
Obviously, among groups who support an expansive effort to admit Afghan refugees, there will be differences about the total we admit and what specific programs should be extended to them.
But there will be broad agreement that the combination of our long presence there, our terrible botching of the evacuation, and the current disaster that’s unfolding as a result create uniquely pressing obligations for us. Agreement among just about everyone except the Trump Rump.