GOP rift opens up over resettling Afghan refugees
The plight of Afghan allies desperately trying to flee the Taliban is exposing divisions among Republicans, with some pressing the Biden administration to help resettle those people who helped the U.S. military and others stoking nativist fears about an influx of refugees.
The rift comes as Republicans have tried to remain unified in their criticism of President Biden’s handling of the messy U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The GOP divide is taking place at both the state and national level.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) was one of the first GOP governors to say his state is “ready and willing” to receive more refugees after Maryland is already posted to receive at least 180 Afghan citizens under the program that allows special visas to those who helped the U.S.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also expressed support for accepting Afghans who assisted the American military.
“We owe it to these people who are our friends and who worked with us to get them out safely — if we can. They’ve got a big problem, they’re just trying to get to the airport which is proving to be a difficult problem,” he said during an interview with WBKO News, a Kentucky TV station.
But Republicans closely allied with former President Trump and his “America First” agenda rejected the notion that the U.S. has a moral obligation to resettle Afghans and warned of security and demographic threats.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) pushed back on her state’s GOP governor, Brian Kemp, for expressing openness to letting Afghan refugees resettle in Georgia.
“GA shouldn’t welcome Afghan refugees while 1,000’s of Americans are stranded,” Greene tweeted. “Will this bring chain migration too? How much will it cost GA taxpayers in [government] assistance?”
Greene further added that “the future of GA shouldn’t be like MN that voted for Omar,” referring to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Somali refugee whose Minneapolis-area district is home to many Somali Americans.
Some Fox News hosts have also stoked fears.
“If history is any guide, and it’s always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country in the coming months, probably in your neighborhood. And over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions. So first we invade, and then we’re invaded,” Tucker Carlson said on his show this week.
Meanwhile, Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) said the chaos of the Afghanistan withdrawal is “not an excuse to flood” the U.S. with refugees, and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) warned of the possibility that some Afghans accepted as refugees could pose a security threat.
“The Biden regime owes us answers ASAP about how they will be vetting the refugee applicants from Afghanistan,” Boebert said. “We are dealing with a part of the world that is a hotbed of terrorism and need to be incredibly vigilant.”
Similarly, Republican Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin tweeted this week that “Afghanistan is a dangerous country that is home to many dangerous people,” while objecting to “disturbing reports” that thousands of Afghans are heading to the U.S.
“Allowing entry of thousands from a known terrorist hotbed who have not been screened on top of the border crisis will further degrade national security and undermine public safety,” Tiffany wrote.
Afghan civilians who fled the country this week are among those seeking special immigrant visas (SIVs), which include people who helped the U.S. military over the last 20 years, along with their families.
The Biden administration said it would expand eligibility for at-risk Afghans looking to come to the U.S. as refugees to include people who worked for a U.S. government-funded program in Afghanistan or who are current or former employees of American-based media organizations.
White House deputy press secretary Andrew Bates, in the administration’s first response to the GOP opposition to accepting refugees, said the Biden administration applauds leaders who are working to help Afghans.
“We are keeping faith with Afghans who put their lives at risk to serve alongside our military, and applaud the leaders in both parties who are working with us to honor their sacrifices,” he told The Hill.
Evacuation efforts of Americans and at-risk Afghans have been chaotic, with massive crowds at Kabul’s airport and Afghans seeking cover from gunfire Taliban fighters as they try to escape by plane.
More than 80,000 Afghans likely qualify for evacuation based on their work with the U.S. military and government.
The administration on Monday allocated $500 million in additional funds for relocating Afghan refugees, including applicants for SIVs. The funds, intended to meet “unexpected urgent refugee and migration needs,” came a day after the Taliban’s swift takeover of Kabul on Sunday that left Americans and Afghan civilians desperately trying to escape the country.
Afghan civilians earlier this week sat in cramped conditions on a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III flying out of Kabul. A U.S. Central Command spokesperson said the high number of passengers “was the result of a dynamic security environment that necessitated quick decision making by the crew, which ultimately ensured that these passengers were safely taken outside the country.”
Trump on Wednesday blasted Biden over the image of the plane, saying it should have been “full of Americans.”
That marked a notable shift in tone from the day before, when Trump said in a statement: “Can anyone even imagine taking out our Military before evacuating civilians and others who have been good to our Country and who should be allowed to seek refuge?”
That same image was tweeted by a Newsmax anchor who said people wouldn’t want the plane landing in their towns.
Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), who served in Iraq, rejected the notion that the Afghan refugees would be unwelcome.
“This is a photo of a plane load of Afghan allies who risked their lives to help protect American troops. Who braved assassination threats by the Taliban because they believed in America and trusted us to look out for their safety. I would be honored to welcome them,” Meijer said in a tweet.