Democrats pressure Biden to welcome Afghan refugees

Lawmakers say Afghans already in US can help assimilate newcomers

Afghans try to enter Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 16 ahead of the U.S. withdrawal from the country. (Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file photo)
Afghans try to enter Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 16 ahead of the U.S. withdrawal from the country. (Haroon Sabawoon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images file photo)
Posted September 24, 2021 at 5:20pm

A group of 16 Democratic lawmakers, led by Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona, wants President Joe Biden to create an Afghan Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council that would enlist Afghans already in the United States in assisting federal agencies in resettling their compatriots. 

In a letter sent to the White House Friday, the lawmakers said that the evacuation of Afghans to the United States was just the first step toward ensuring that the refugees, some of whom worked with the U.S. military during two decades of war in Afghanistan, are assimilated into American society. 

“We want to show that Afghans and experts who were on the ground during the withdrawal — not just in Afghanistan but also in the U.S. — have a seat at the table when these Afghans are resettled here,” Gallego, a Marine Corps combat veteran who served in Iraq, said. 

Some 50,000 Afghans are expected to be admitted to the U.S. following the collapse of the Afghanistan government and the chaotic American withdrawal from Kabul last month that left behind U.S. citizens and Afghan allies and exposed U.S. servicemembers and Afghans to a terrorist bombing that killed 13 Americans and scores of Afghans.

Tens of thousands of Afghans have already arrived in the U.S., Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Sept. 3. 

Gallego said that the question now is of a “culturally competent resettlement.”

“Getting Afghans out of Kabul was just the first step — let’s make sure they have an easy resettlement,” he said. 

In their letter, the lawmakers say that an effective resettlement council would include members of the Afghan diaspora, refugee assistance and resettlement groups and veterans groups that have been “instrumental in Afghan evacuation and assistance thus far.” 

Veterans' groups tapped

Some veterans groups played a key role during the withdrawal from Afghanistan, when it became clear that the Biden administration was not evacuating people from Kabul quickly enough and the Taliban had encircled Hamid Karzai International Airport, the U.S. military’s final foothold in the country. 

The loosely connected groups mobilized online, taking to Twitter and other social media to source donations, gather information and guide those on the ground in Kabul to evacuation flights. 

“We have a responsibility to assist the Afghans arriving in the United States, and we strongly believe the best way to do that is with the input of Afghans themselves and the experienced refugee and veteran groups that have already mobilized to assist them,” the letter said, “We stand ready to assist you as you continue to work to establish safe, prosperous new lives for Afghan refugees and their families.” 

The letter’s signatories include Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, an Iraq war veteran; House Armed Services member Sara Jacobs of California; and Afghanistan war veteran Rep. Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, among others.