Florida and the nation must welcome the Afghans who helped us fight our 20-year war.

The United States owes Afghan immigrants at least that much.

The devolving situation in Afghanistan has posed many impossible choices, but this one should be easy: welcoming Afghan immigrants to the United States. After two decades of conflict and occupation, we have an obligation to help resettle Afghan families whose lives have been capsized. More fundamentally, our nation is made stronger and richer by immigrants who come here to work, build lives and add to our magnificent melting pot.

Once the U.S. completed its military withdrawal, the Taliban wrested back power with astonishing speed — suddenly imperiling ordinary Afghans, in particular, those who aided the American occupation, not to mention girls and women who face a return to repressive conditions under Islamic rule. Afghan citizens had enjoyed a tenuous freedom as long as the central government was propped up by the U.S. presence, but with the Taliban’s resurgence it was easy to see that way of life disappearing into the vortex of the American retreat.

It will be important to analyze all the ways President Joe Biden could have orchestrated a smoother withdrawal and better protected Afghan civilians and our own soldiers. As chaos and desperation intensified outside the Kabul airport following the Taliban takeover, the heinous terrorist attack on Aug. 26 that killed 13 U.S. troops and hundreds of Afghan civilians bore the grim pall of predictability.

Just like the Vietnamese after Vietnam, Bosnians after the Bosnian War and countless other examples, immigrants who come to America for a better life, in turn, make our country and our communities better. We need immigrants to grow the U.S. population after years of declining birth rates and to address worker shortages at all levels of the economy. Despite fear-mongering rhetoric to the contrary, immigrants are not a drain on the nation, nor are they a threat. Years of research indicates that immigrants are more likely to have jobs and less likely to commit crimes than citizens who are born here.

The vast majority of Afghan refugees don’t come to the U.S., settling in countries closer to home. Pakistan, which shares a 1,600-mile border with Afghanistan, has taken in the most Afghans for years, along with Iran and Turkey. Now with the country in such disorder, a worldwide effort is required to avert a full-blown refugee crisis. The U.S. must and will be part of that coordination, vetting Afghan arrivals just like any other legal immigrant, and providing support services once they’re here.

Efforts in Florida to do just that are already under way in a heartening display of citizenship and service. Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services and Radiant Hands are two of the groups helping Afghan arrivals with housing and transportation in the immediate term. Radiant Hands also runs businesses that employ immigrants so they can quickly begin working and learning useful skills. This ground-level work will need to be replicated on a massive scale to ensure Afghan immigrants have a real opportunity to become fully contributing members of society.

Afghans have composed one of the world’s largest refugee groups for decades, and their plight is vastly more dire following the events of the past month. Of the many defeats and missteps that history will record about the United States’ two-decade presence in Afghanistan, failing to help the Afghans who helped the U.S. must not be one. The U.S. should strive to be a shining example to the world of welcoming and assimilating Afghan immigrants into our communities, businesses and schools. We’ll be a better nation for it.

 

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