GOP unsuccessfully seeks to unite on Afghan refugee message
As the pool of potential refugees grows, “there is still concern that a terrorist organization could take advantage of a mass movement of people,” said Senate Intelligence Committee Deputy Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) In a brief interview. “But I don’t know how it improves by not providing funding for it.
The House funding bill includes $ 6.3 billion in emergency spending to help Afghan asylum seekers in the United States. Although Republicans have opposed the funding bill regardless of the Afghan refugee resettlement arrangements, they still see the Biden administration’s rocky withdrawal from Afghanistan as a winning issue and want to use its stumbles to raise the question of whether the resettled allies can be properly controlled given the chaos of the US Military Withdrawal.
Yet some of those messages are undermined by echoes of Republicans’ xenophobia suggesting that Afghan refugees should be settled in countries where they can be with like-minded people.
“I have advocated that we try to settle these people in other countries around Afghanistan who share their values and culture, especially if we cannot ensure proper verification,” First Year Representative Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) tweeted last week in response to the resettlement of 75 Afghan refugees in their country of origin. He did not provide details of their status.
In an interview on Tuesday, Rosendale doubled down when asked about the criticisms leveled at him.
“It’s nothing more than people’s attempts to try to silence me. I will not be silenced, ”Rosendale said. “It would be better if these people were settled in countries around them – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan – where they share their culture where they share religion, and everyone involved would be happier.”
Montana GOP Senator Steve Daines disagreed with Rosendale and recently said that “these are refugees who love America … and it is our duty to ensure that they have a way to get away from the Taliban “.
“These are fully vetted refugees who have been instrumental in helping US forces in Afghanistan,” Daines added in a brief interview on Tuesday. Indeed, Republicans like Daines have stressed that Afghans who aided the American war effort, and were therefore carefully selected, should be welcome in the United States – unlike Rosendale and other members of the GOP. who have long opposed the resettlement of refugees.
Ironically, Republicans inadvertently obtained political cover for their Afghan refugee strategy from Democrats, many of whom have previously criticized the Biden administration for the fatal upheaval of the US withdrawal.
For example, the State Department has previously acknowledged that most special immigrant visa applicants remained in Afghanistan when tens of thousands of Afghans were airlifted from the country as part of an operation to mass evacuation in Kabul last month. These are the at-risk Afghan population who served as translators and interpreters throughout the two-decade war effort, often risking their lives.
The distinction between SIV candidates and non-SIV Afghans has fueled criticism from the GOP.
“The deeper we dig into this, the more we start to see that it looks like the Biden administration just loaded up these planes with a lot of people who are not being screened, in fact a very small percentage – a number maybe – had SIV “, Daines added. “And that’s a huge problem.”
During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was unable to provide a precise breakdown of the 124,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan. Administration officials said they are still trying to determine who fell into which category – whether they were US citizens, lawful permanent residents, SIV seekers or other groups of asylum seekers. .
Despite bipartisan criticism of Team Biden’s approach to Afghanistan and a precedent of poor screening procedures causing refugee resettlement headaches for previous administrations, some Republicans took their criticism further. A powerful House GOP group recently suggested that not only cannot the Biden administration be trusted to control Afghan refugees who are not part of the SIV program, but that the Biden administration is looking for a backdoor for Afghans obtain US citizenship.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), Chairman of the Republican Study Board, made the point last week as aid to Afghan refugees drew closer to a vote. However, the early warnings from the RSC of Democrats offering refugees a banking route to legal status do not appear to have been found in the text of the funding bill passed by the House.
For example, a note released by the RSC last week says the White House has called for language that gives the Homeland Security Secretary the power to designate Afghan refugees as lawful permanent residents, adding that it “would provide a fast track to the citizenship “.
But the financing bill explicitly states that “nothing in this law should be interpreted as entitling a person … to legal permanent resident status”.
Banks, for his part, maintains that the House finance bill “still provides a back door to citizenship that I have no doubt the Democrats plan to use” to help Afghan refugees – although ‘he did not specify how the funding bill would allow this. .
“And that doesn’t change the fact that the [funding bill] still establishes open borders with Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, allowing anyone coming from Afghanistan to receive social benefits and driver’s licenses, ”Banks added in a statement. “The Conservatives will not let them take it out on us quickly.”
The Biden administration has repeatedly rebuffed claims that non-SIV Afghan refugees do not have sufficient screening prior to their arrival, providing details of the advanced level of security screening and saying that a significant number of refugees undergo an additional layer in a third country. . “Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check,” the president said last month.
Some Republicans quietly fear their party’s hard-line supporters will undermine their efforts to hold Biden and his national security team accountable for an evacuation operation that has left thousands of vulnerable Afghans behind. Additionally, all but 16 House Republicans voted in favor of a bipartisan bill that raised the refugee cap for vulnerable Afghans and removed some steps from the comprehensive vetting process to speed up approvals in the framework of the American withdrawal.
The effort, which all Democrats supported, gave the GOP yet another opportunity to criticize the Biden administration’s military withdrawal as ill-planned, with lawmakers on both sides saying the US-led evacuations of Afghanistan should have started months earlier.
“Had the withdrawal been handled competently, I don’t think there would have been such serious concerns about who was in the country and the vetting procedures,” said Representative Mike Gallagher (R-Wis .), a Navy veteran. “But if the administration is prepared to leave the American citizens behind Afghanistan, how confident do I have that they can establish a competent vetting process?”
GOP calls to limit refugee resettlement undeniably complicate this message.
“There are probably 20,000 more in Afghanistan who have the right to come out that we haven’t come out and that we hope to come out. These people should be easy to identify, ”said Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “But it’s those other 70,000 who just say, ‘I’m going to be killed by the Taliban.’ They all have stories, and check them out [people] can be very difficult.