Evacuees stage before boarding a C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 18, 2021. (Lance Corporal Nicholas Guevara/USMC)
The scenes at Kabul airport — Afghans clinging to airplanes as they take off, Afghans passing babies over barbed wire — are only the tip of the iceberg of the desperation in the country.
The U.S. should try to get everyone out of Kabul that it reasonably can in the current ramshackle evacuation operation, but it shouldn’t feel obligated to take all these people itself, and what is likely to be a larger subsequent refugee flow will inevitably enter neighboring countries.
The refugee debate in this country is often ignoring important distinctions in our policy toward would-be Afghan immigrants.
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One category is Afghans eligible for so-called Special Immigrant Visas who worked as translators or who otherwise who were employed by or on behalf of the United States. We have a direct moral responsibility to these people — they risked their lives and those of their families to aid our effort, often with the understanding that we’d get them out if the Taliban returned to power.
There has been strong bipartisan support for this program, and the number of people eligible for these visas is relatively small, although the pool of potential recipients and their family members numbers in the tens of thousands.
Then, there is a special category of refugees, known as Priority 2, that extends to people who don’t meet the standards for an SIV but have worked for the U.S. government, for U.S. government-funded programs, or for U.S.-based media organizations or NGOs.
Finally, there are the vastly greater number of people who didn’t have any relationship with the U.S. who will flee the Taliban now and in coming years.
Our imperative in the days and weeks ahead — however much time we have left — should be to fly out as many Afghans as possible consistent with our obligation to help Americans first.
Besides Afghans who have already been approved for SIVs, though, everyone should go to third countries. This serves the important humanitarian function of getting them out of harm’s way in Afghanistan. It also provides us the time and space to vet and process them and eventually bring SIVs and others who are most deserving into the United States.
It is important to realize, on the one hand, that this category of people is different from, say, the Syria migrants who walked into Europe during the Syrian civil war. These Afghans are not random people fleeing a conflict, but those who chose to identify themselves with us and Western values when the chips were down.
It is also true, on the other hand, that there is a limit to any Western country’s assimilative capacity. France has had trouble for decades absorbing the Muslim migrants who came there from its colonies. Perhaps we are better at assimilation than the French, but the large Somali diaspora in the Minneapolis area has at times been a seedbed of radicalism and discontent.
Certainly, we shouldn’t be accepting other refugees from other countries until we work through this more urgent problem presented by the Afghan crisis.
And the plight of the Afghans, who genuinely fear for their safety and their lives at the hands of a group of barbaric Islamic radicals, shows the absurdity of the Biden administration’s treating migrants from Central American democracies as though they, too, are refugees fleeing persecution.
By all means, let’s be open-handed and generous to the Afghans who put it on the line for us and trusted us, and lend support, to the extent we can, to Afghan refugees who end up elsewhere. But our refugee policy should demonstrate the rationality and discrimination that President Biden’s bug-out didn’t.
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