If tens of thousands of Afghan refugees on the run from the Taliban Arriving in the US, a handful of former US President Donald Trump officials are working to turn the conservative Republican party against them.
The former officials write position papers, appear on conservative television channels and meet privately with GOP lawmakers — all in an effort to turn Afghanistan’s collapse into another chance to push through a tough immigration agenda.
“It’s a partnership based on mutual conviction,” said Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s most conservative immigration policy and one of those involved in the issue.
“My emphasis has been on talking to members of Congress to build support for the opposition to the Biden administration’s general refugee plans.”
The approach is not embraced by all Republican leaders, some calling it mean and contrary to the Christian teachings important to the white evangelicals who play a crucial role in the party’s grassroots. The strategy is based on tactics common during Trump’s tenure that have repulsed many voters, including racist tropes, fear mongering and false accusations.
And the hardliners pay little attention to the human reality unfolding in Afghanistan, where those who worked with the US military during the war are desperately on the run for fear of being killed by the new Taliban regime.
But the Republicans pushing the issue are betting they can open a new front in the culture wars they’ve been waging since President Joe Biden’s election by combining the anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by Trump’s political rise with widespread discontent over the withdrawal. from Afghanistan. That, they hope, could keep Republican voters motivated as they head into next year’s midterms, when control of Congress is at stake.
“From a political standpoint, cultural issues are the most important issues that concern the American people,” said Russ Vought, former Trump budget chief and chairman of the Center for Renewing America, a nonprofit that has worked to build opposition to Afghan people. refugee settlement in the US – along with other hot-button issues, such as critical race theory, which views American history through the lens of racism.
His group is working, he said, to “break the existing unanimity a bit” that, despite the chaotic withdrawal, Afghan refugees deserve to come to the US.
Gripping on ‘cultural issues’
Officials insist that any Afghan entering the country will be subject to extensive checks, including thorough biometric and biographical screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement and counter-terrorism personnel.
at a few hearings this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said those “rigorous security checks” begin in transit countries before refugees arrive in the US and continue at US military bases before anyone is resettled. The checks then continue while refugees wait for further processing.
But Trump and his allies, who have made efforts to drastically curtail refugee admission during their tenure, insist the refugees pose a threat.
“Who are all coming to our country?” Trump asked in a recent statement. “How many terrorists are there among them?”
With the US facing a host of challenges, it’s unclear whether voters will view immigration as a top priority next year.
It was a major motivator for voters in the 2018 midterm elections, with four in 10 Republicans citing it as the top problem facing the country, according to data from AP VoteCast.
But it became much less noticeable two years later, when just three percent of 2020 voters — including five percent of Republicans — named it the top issue facing the country during the COVID-19 pandemic and related issues. economic misery.
When it comes to refugees, 68 percent of Americans say they support the US taking in those fleeing Afghanistan after a security screening, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll in late August and early September. That includes a majority — 56 percent — of Republicans.
‘Stir up fear’
The leaders of the party are far from united.
Dozens of Republican lawmakers and their offices have worked tirelessly to try to help Afghans flee the country. And some, like Senator Thom Tillis, have admonished those in his party who suggested the Afghans pose a security risk.
Some of the skepticism from the right has been compounded by the Biden administration’s refusal so far to provide a breakdown of who could leave Afghanistan during the US’s chaotic evacuation campaign from Kabul airport.
The State Department has said that more than 23,800 Afghans arrived in the US between August 17 and 31. Thousands more stay at US military sites abroad for screening and other processing.
But officials say they are still compiling the breakdown of the number of applicants for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program designed to help Afghan interpreters and others who have served side by side with Americans, how many are considered other “Afghans at risk,” such as journalists and human rights workers, and how many fall into other categories.
The Associated of Wartime Allies estimates that as many as 20,000 special visa applicants remain in the country, not counting their families and others eligible to come to the US.
Ken Cuccinelli, who served as Trump’s acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and is now a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America, said he doesn’t believe the refugees have been adequately assessed.
“It is unfeasible as a simple administrative matter,” he said of the process. While Cuccinelli, like Miller, believes SIVs should be allowed to come to the US, he argues that the other refugees in the region should be resettled closer to home.
“[The] mass imports of potentially hundreds of thousands of people who do not share American cultural, political or ideological similarities pose serious risks to both national security and wider social cohesion,” he wrote in a recent statement posted on the group’s website, which lists Pew Research Center. opinion polls on views on Islamic law and suicide bombings.
Other former government officials strongly disagree with such incendiary language.
“Some people who have always been hardliners on immigration are mistakenly seeing this as an opportunity for the midterm elections to fuel fears, for lack of a better term, of ‘I don’t want these people in my country’ said Alyssa Farah, a former Pentagon press secretary who was also the White House communications director under Trump.
Farah said she has been working to “politely shift Republican sentiment” away from arguments she sees as factually incorrect and politically questionable.
The Republican Party, she noted, includes a majority of veterans — many of whom worked closely with Afghans on the ground and led the way to help their former colleagues escape — as well as Evangelical Christians, who have traditionally welcomed refugees.