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Afghan refugees wait in Kabul

Afghan refugees crouch in a group as British military secure the perimeter outside the Baron Hotel, near the Abbey Gate, in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 26, 2021. (Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

AOC, Barbara Lee to Biden: Lift Refugee Cap to 200,000 to Help Afghans

"We have a responsibility to make a home for the people whose lives have been upended by interventionist U.S. foreign policy."

Jake Johnson

Reps. Barbara Lee, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and more than 60 other House Democrats on Thursday urged the Biden administration to raise the U.S. refugee admissions cap to at least 200,000 for Fiscal Year 2022, a demand that came after at least 90 Afghans were killed in an attack near Kabul's international airport.

In a letter (pdf) to President Joe Biden, 66 Democratic lawmakers wrote that "as the people of Afghanistan face an unfolding tragedy, the United States must open its doors to refugees fleeing the devastating consequences of a 20-year U.S. military occupation and 40 years of U.S.-fueled war."

"The United States must open its doors to refugees fleeing the devastating consequences of a 20-year U.S. military occupation."

"To ensure their safety, we urge you to increase the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program cap to no less than 200,000 when you issue your Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 before October 1st," the letter reads. "We also urge you to expand humanitarian parole to provide refuge to vulnerable Afghans."

Earlier this year, Biden set the Fiscal Year 2021 refugee cap at 62,500 after he faced backlash over his earlier plans to keep in place the historically low 15,000-person limit imposed by the Trump administration.

As the Washington Post reported last week, the Biden White House "showed little public urgency to expedite visas for Afghans in the months before and immediately after Biden's announcement in April that the United States would pull U.S. forces out" of Afghanistan.

The House Democrats sent their letter as the Biden administration is racing to complete the U.S. troop withdrawal by August 31. Thus far, U.S. President Joe Biden has resisted pressure—from Republicans, Democrats, and European allies—to push back the exit deadline.

In the aftermath of Thursday's attack, Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said in an appearance on MSNBC that "this is the human cost of war." 

"This is what makes war immoral," she continued. "And when it comes to the devastation we have seen in Afghanistan, the United States plays a role... We have a responsibility to make a home for the people whose lives have been upended by interventionist U.S. foreign policy."

Watch:

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Somali refugee and one of the signatories of the new letter, wrote in an op-ed for CNN Friday morning that while the president "deserves credit for the evacuating over 70,000 people from Kabul in the past week alone," there are "tens of thousands more who need our help."

"My office alone has received over 5,000 requests from people trying to get family members and colleagues out of Afghanistan just in the past two weeks—representing tens of thousands of individuals who are afraid for their lives," Omar noted. "Thursday's terrorist attack on Afghans and U.S. service members was yet another reminder of the terror the people of Afghanistan continue to face."

"We should not let paperwork and bureaucracy be a death sentence," Omar added. "Much like we did in the wake of Vietnam, we must allow Afghan citizens to emigrate here immediately using national interest waivers and humanitarian parole—which the administration has the legal authority to do."

Read the House Democrats' full letter:

Dear President Biden,

As the people of Afghanistan face an unfolding tragedy, the United States must open its doors to refugees fleeing the devastating consequences of a 20-year U.S. military occupation and 40 years of U.S.-fueled war. To ensure their safety, we urge you to increase the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program cap to no less than 200,000 when you issue your Presidential Determination on Refugee Admissions for Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 before October 1st. We also urge you to expand humanitarian parole to provide refuge to vulnerable Afghans who are in grave danger following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

After decades of disastrous U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, one thing is clear: we have a moral responsibility to provide safe harbor and refuge for the Afghan people. The U.S. war in Afghanistan has caused irreparable harm to Afghans as well as to the Americans who served there. Now, the growing humanitarian crisis is further exposing the horrific costs of our endless wars. The United States must do everything in its power to protect those who have borne the brunt of this decades-long conflict, especially Afghans who are at increased risk of persecution or death by the Taliban.

Increasing the U.S. Refugee Admissions Programs cap above 200,000 will mean that hundreds of thousands more people can escape danger to find greater security and hope in the United States. Beyond Afghanistan, refugee crises are also ongoing in other parts of the world—especially as political violence erupts in Ethiopia, Lebanon faces economic collapse, and Haiti grapples with yet another devastating earthquake following the assassination of its president. And as climate change accelerates, destroying homes and ruining crops, displacement is only on the rise. In the face of these overlapping crises, increased refugee protections are vital to ensuring that people can reach safety and rebuild their lives.

In the weeks before your FY22 Presidential Determination for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, there is an immediate need to provide refuge for Afghans. We appreciate your dedicated effort to expedite Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for Afghans who have assisted the United States but it is imperative to focus on evacuation of all SIV applicants and the thousands of other vulnerable Afghans who now fear for their lives. We request that you provide humanitarian parole to the families of U.S. citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents, SIV applicants and their families, as well as those who would have qualified for the Priority 2 program. Humanitarian parole must also be extended to other vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, including women’s rights activists, human rights defenders, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, and journalists.

The urgent need to double down on our efforts to welcome and protect refugees is evidenced by the racist, virulent anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiment that exploded over the last decade—often as a result of U.S.-fueled wars—and was further heightened under the last administration and now with the evacuations occurring in Afghanistan. To those questioning if it is really our responsibility to provide refuge for those fleeing conflict, persecution, or dire living conditions—yes, it is. In fact, it is not only our responsibility, but it is our greatest strength.

Mr. President, the time to act to save lives is now. We are ready to work with you to appropriate the necessary funds to be used for humanitarian needs and, specifically, as is necessary is used to ramp up the evacuation and processing of Afghans and others seeking refuge around the world.


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