116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
As the federal government scrambles to evacuate Americans and allies from a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, many are wondering why we didn’t start this process sooner.
Special visas for Afghans who aided the U.S. have been bogged down by bureaucratic inaction for many months. The military apparently did not plan for the likelihood that the capital of Kabul would fall so quickly. As a result, thousands of friends to the U.S. are languishing in the war-torn nation.
One explanation for the chaos is political calculus. President Joe Biden’s administration reportedly feared Afghan refugees would become a domestic political burden.
The calculation turned out to be wrong. Outside of a handful of hard-core nativists, there is little opposition to resettling Afghans in the United States, even among GOP politicians.
Sources say “the White House let political fear of GOP attacks make them act too cautiously on relocating Afghans to the U.S.,” Politico journalists wrote this week. Some insiders blamed the situation “on White House concern that the influx would invite partisan political backlash amid a rush of migrants at the southern border,” the Washington Post reported.
Setting aside the grim inhumanity of turning tragedy into a political calculation, the calculation turned out to be wrong. Outside of a handful of hard-core nativists, there is little opposition to resettling Afghans in the United States, even among GOP politicians.
State and federal officials from Iowa say the state is ready and willing to accept refugees.
“We are pushing, pushing, pushing to get as many Afghans out of Afghanistan as we can, and we’d love to have them here in Iowa,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst told reporters at the Iowa State Fair this week, as reported by Radio Iowa.
“I think the message that I want to relay to Iowans is we want to be a partner. We want them here,” Gov. Kim Reynolds said, per Radio Iowa.
The focus for now is on recipients of Special Immigration Visas, designated for Afghans and Iraqis who assisted the military in the War on Terror. There are hundreds of thousands of other Afghans who would benefit from resettlement, not to mention many more in other countries. Perhaps the fall of Afghanistan can be a clarifying moment in Americans’ acceptance of refugees.
Refugees arriving in Iowa are assisted through a network of resettlement programs, including the Catherine McAuley Center in Cedar Rapids. The organization has not served Afghan refugees to date, but is prepared to do so.
Refugees arriving in Iowa are set up with rental housing and meet regularly with advocates during the 90-day placement period. They get help to apply for benefits, seek health care, enroll kids in school and adults in English classes, and look for work.
Providing those services is not only the right thing to do, it’s a wise investment that pays dividends economically, socially and culturally. Refugees make our communities more productive and more vibrant.
“There is data aplenty that refugees and immigrants pay more in taxes and contribute more to the local economy than they ever receive over the course of their lifetimes,” said Sara Zejnic, refugee and immigrant services director at the Catherine McAuley Center. “But there’s a value that can’t always be quantified to the diversity that refugees and immigrants bring to our communities.”
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