After a few days of road-testing scattered messages, major players in the GOP and conservative media have started to coalesce around a unified message to Afghans seeking refuge in the United States: Stay the hell out of my country.
As President Joe Biden’s withdrawal from the war in Afghanistan has unfolded with the Taliban quickly retaking power and an exploding refugee and humanitarian crisis, immigration advocates and human-rights groups have blasted the Biden administration for its failures to adequately prepare for the evacuation and resettlement of thousands of Afghans and their families. The leader of the GOP, former President Donald Trump, mocked his successor (and was sure to fundraise off of the chaos), issuing a statement on Monday saying, “Can anyone even imagine taking out our Military before evacuating civilians and others who have been good to our Country and who should be allowed to seek refuge?” and dubiously alleged, “Under my Administration, all civilians and equipment would have been removed.”
Trump’s spokeswoman did not provide comment following inquiries on whether the ex-president meant to advocate for resettlement in the U.S., or in third-party countries. But four people close to the president, including two former senior administration officials who worked directly with Trump on immigration and refugee policies, cast doubt that the ex-president was inviting Afghans to the homeland.
“That is not the Donald Trump I know,” one ex-official remarked.
On Tuesday night, Hannity aired a new interview with Trump, during which the former president riffed for a bit on the topic, before shuffling onto the next subject. “We have the military here and we take the military out before we took our civilians out, and before we took the interpreters and other, we want to try to help with, by the way I am America First,” Trump rambled to Fox News host (and his longtime friend and adviser) Sean Hannity. “The Americans come out first, but also we will help people that help us. We have to be very careful with the vetting because there’s some rough people in there, but we will help those people.”
If the former president’s message was muddled, Trump’s most visible supporters were happy to sharpen the tone.
Fox News, a vanguard of the MAGA movement, set the tone of opposition to resettling Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Starting late Monday night, the network’s primetime lineup responded to the images of refugees huddled in the cargo bay of a C-17 with a collective “not here.”
Primetime host Tucker Carlson moaned that Afghans had “invaded” the country and that “millions” of refugees would swarm the U.S., “probably in your neighborhood,” while Laura Ingraham wondered whether America’s promises to Afghan employees and soldiers were really valid in the face of "thousands of potentially unvetted refugees" entering the country. Both Fox News stars have for years been informal advisers to Trump, including by privately counseling him on policy matters during his presidency.
In Congress, House Republicans like Rep. Tom Tiffany (R-WI) called reports of Afghans heading to the U.S. as “disturbing” and warned against “releasing tens of 1000’s of Afghans into our communities.” Montana’s Republican congressman Matt Rosendale warned that the Taliban’s takeover in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal was "not an excuse to flood our country with refugees from Afghanistan." Mary Miller, a freshman congresswoman from Illinois, let her priorities be known on Twitter. “Refugees must be vetted. Keep America safe!”
On Tuesday morning, Steve Cortes, a Newsmax host and former Trump 2020 adviser, tweeted, “Not one Afghan should be coming to America. They should stay in [the] region. We have bases in Iraq and supposed allies in the Gulf — time for UAE, Saudi Arabia, India, [and] Israel to all step up.” The same day, fellow Newsmax personality Emerald Robinson posted, “We have 80,000 Afghan ‘allies’ who want to be evacuated to the US? That's the same number as the Taliban. Tell those people to grab a rifle and fight for their country.”
In the chaotic mess left behind by the Biden administration’s lack of planning, MAGA stalwarts instead saw a deviously clever strategy unfolding. Charlie Kirk, of TPUSA and a friend of the Trump family, speculated as such, echoing the premise of the white nationalist “replacement theory,” which holds that left-wing politicians are engaged in a conspiracy to replace white Americans with non-white immigrants. Biden, he said during a Monday podcast appearance, "wants a couple hundred thousand more Ilhan Omars to come into America to change the body politic permanently," mirroring the premise of white-supremacist “replacement theory.”
Omar, a Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota and frequent target of the right, came to the United States as a teenage refugee from Somalia.
Some prominent conservatives have coated their anti-refugee rhetoric with a flaccid veneer of compassion, suggesting that Afghans fleeing from the Taliban takeover of their country would be happier closer to home.
“Humane refugee policy emphasizes relocation as close to home as possible, maximizing finite resources & enabling possible return when conditions allow,” former Trump speechwriter and chief immigration adviser Stephen Miller tweeted, slightly ahead of the curve on Sunday, warning that the Biden administration would do to the United States “what Angela Merkel did to Germany” by giving refugees safe haven.
“Those rejecting regional resettlement strategies in favor of mass U.S. resettlement have a political, not humanitarian, objective,” he added.
But the suggestion that regional partners should take on the majority of refugees from Afghanistan ignores American culpability for the looming refugee crisis, advocates told The Daily Beast.
“Consideration should be given to the refugee caseload the countries in the region already bear,” said Aimee Ansari, executive director of Translators Without Borders, which provides translation services for humanitarian nonprofits. “People who cross international borders are refugees and, under the Refugee Convention, they have a right to have durable solutions.”
Refugee advocates on the ground say that those angling for countries like Pakistan, Qatar, and Kuwait to accept the tens of thousands of refugees who hope to leave Afghanistan are merely shifting humanitarian responsibility from the richer countries who caused the mess to poorer ones that are already struggling under the burden of longstanding regional instability.
“For years, many interpreters and their families have been moving around and living in hiding to avoid Taliban reprisals,” said Maya Hess, founder and CEO of Red T., a nonprofit that works to protect translators and interpreters in conflict zones. “To displace them again into a temporary situation is simply inhumane.”
But for people like Miller, Trump, and their congressional and media allies, the comfort and rights of fleeing Afghans is hardly the real concern. The same day the former president took time to issue a statement supposedly sympathizing with those who “seek refuge,” he also released a brief statement airing his true grievance and priority, as it relates to Biden’s policies—which is to say, spreading lies that he won the 2020 presidential election that Trump clearly lost.
“The corrupt Presidential Election of 2020 got us here. Never would have happened if I were President!” Trump complained in a two-sentence written statement on Monday.
—with additional reporting by Justin Baragona
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