"How many terrorists are among them?”: House Republicans protest resettlement of Afghan refugees

Afghan refugees are arriving to the U.S. in the tens of thousands, triggering a wave of right-wing xenophobia

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published September 17, 2021 4:37PM (EDT)

Lauren Boebert and Madison Cawthorn (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Lauren Boebert and Madison Cawthorn (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Republican lawmakers are decrying President Biden's effort to resettle tens of thousands of displaced Afghan refugees on U.S. soil, invoking baseless fears that migrants pose security concerns.

According to The New York Times, 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan have arrived in the United States as of September 14, the majority of them having fled the Taliban – which in mid-August instituted its own regime in Kabul, ending the U.S.-backed Afghan resistance effort. About 49,000 of the refugees are residing on eight domestic military bases throughout the country, with 18,000 on bases overseas. The evacuees are all awaiting formal placement in the U.S. as they submit to screenings by various federal agencies for reasons of security and health.  

A smattering of Democratic- and Republican-led states – like California, Georgia, Iowa, and Maryland – have already promised to take in thousands of evacuees. However, a number of conservative lawmakers, and especially those allied with Donald Trump, have expressed opposition to the effort, employing oft-used anti-immigrant dog whistles. 

On Thursday, Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., warned that Biden was "flooding [Montana's] communities with unvetted refugees" after learning that a mere "75 refugees from Afghanistan will be arriving in Montana."

Rosendale baselessly suggested that the individuals will not be properly vetted.

"I have advocated that we should try and settle these individuals in other countries around Afghanistan that share their values and culture," he added. "Especially if we can not ensure proper vetting."

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Donald Trump stoked this very concern in a recent statement, asking: "Who are all of the people coming into our Country? How many terrorists are among them?" 

Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., an anti-immigration hawk, joined the chorus on Monday, saying, "We were lied to!"

"These aren't translators or allies, these are just 'refugees' and who knows how they've been vetted," she tweeted. "This won't end well for us one bit."

Other Republicans have suggested that Biden is privileging the refugees – now displaced partly as a result of America's failed intervention in Afghanistan – with too many advantages. 

"Joe Biden will give Afghan refugees free health insurance," tweeted Rep. Lance Gooden, R-Tex. "Have you had enough of America Last yet?"

"These afghan [sic] refugee women…are giving birth on American soil on military bases," echoed Republican Virginia House candidate Jerome Bell. "[The] children should not be able to be American citizens but by law now they are. Let that sink in a little bit."

Rep. Madison Cawthorne, R-N.C., claimed that Biden is "treating illegal immigrants and refugees better than American citizens." 

"America Last is the Biden way," he added. 

This week, Biden requested that $6.4 billion in funding be allotted to Afghan refugee resettlement. In a request for a continuing resolution, Biden also demanded that language be added for the tens of thousands refugees to apply for U.S. residency, allowing the evacuees to be eligible for greencards by this time next year.

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik is a staff writer at Salon. His work has appeared in Current Affairs, The Baffler, and The New York Daily News.

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