“The US has made a distinction between Afghan refugees and the other vulnerable populations arriving at America’s doorstep. And it’s a false one.
Afghans fleeing Taliban rule have so far occupied a unique space in the immigration policy debate. In a climate where immigration has become a political wedge, there has been overwhelming bipartisan support for resettling at least some of them in the US: Polling has shown that 76 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats back resettlement efforts for Afghans who aided US troops. When it comes to other asylum seekers, the numbers are starkly different. For example, 64 percent of registered voters believe Biden needs to institute stricter policies at the southern border.
What makes Americans sympathetic to Afghan refugees compared to other people seeking protection? Some rightly feel a moral responsibility to protect those who were forced to leave their home due to their government’s ill-conceived and failed nation-building efforts, especially those who worked alongside American forces.
But what may also be a factor is that the Afghan war was also the kind of faraway conflict typically associated with the sort of refugees the US has historically admitted, like Somalis fleeing ongoing civil war in their home country.
Complicating this idea, however, is the fact that the kind of persecution and peril Afghans face in their home country is markedly similar to that faced by asylum seekers arriving on the US-Mexico border. Those from Central America’s Northern Triangle — Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala — are fleeing brutal gang violence, extortion, and government corruption, which are compounded by poverty, lack of economic opportunity, and climate-related issues. The same is true of many other groups as well, like the thousands of Haitians gathered in Del Rio, Texas.
Though the US has not fought a 20-year war in the Northern Triangle or in Haiti, it has played a direct role in creating the societal ills people are running away from, meaning the moral obligation many feel America has toward Afghans ought to extend to migrants from those countries as well.
That, of course, hasn’t been the case. Often invoking racist dog whistles, Republicans have falsely painted them as criminals who threaten public safety, carriers of disease, or economic migrants who want to skip “the line” of legal US immigration. Democrats have not necessarily been much better: The Obama administration detained migrant families on a large scale and told them “don’t come” while the Biden administration has maintained Trump-era policies, effectively blocking all asylum seekers from gaining access to protection amid the pandemic despite claiming to take a more humane approach.
Afghan refugees deserve protection. But so do the other vulnerable populations arriving at America’s doorstep. The Afghan refugee crisis has clarified this in a way other recent mass migration movements have not, and it also presents a unique opportunity for the US to recalibrate its policy about who is worthy of American protection.”