Steven V. Roberts: The answer is yes

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 27, 2021

Laura Ingraham recently asked on Fox: “Is it really our responsibility to welcome thousands of potentially unvetted refugees from Afghanistan?”

The answer is a clear and resounding YES. For one thing, her premise is wrong. Refugees are not “unvetted,” but subject to rigorous and time-consuming screening before they ever arrive in this country.

More seriously, America made a sacred promise to thousands of Afghans who helped our soldiers, diplomats and journalists navigate often perilous conditions over the last 20 years. We have a moral obligation to help them and their families escape Taliban reprisals and resettle here safely.

But there’s more: It’s in America’s deepest self-interest to welcome refugees. We are facing a demographic disaster. Because of declining birth rates and dastardly immigration policies during the Trump years, the U.S. population over the last decade “grew at the second-slowest rate since the government started counting in 1790 — and the slowest since the 1930s,” writes economic analyst Shikha Dalmia in The New York Times.

“To continue America’s upward trajectory in the 21st century, the country must reverse its current demographic decline,” she adds. And the best way to do that is to import young, hardworking, taxpaying engines of economic vitality.

Put it another way: Immigrants are needed to finance the retirement benefits for all those aging white men who watch Fox and cheer on the nativist rants of Ingraham and her fellow Trumpists.

Dalmia’s argument was echoed by the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen, whose family fled Vietnam after the Communist takeover and later ran a grocery store in San Jose, California. “The majority of Americans did not want to accept Southeast Asian refugees in 1975. Guess what? They were wrong,” Nguyen tweeted. “Millions of Southeast Asian Americans have contributed in ways great and small to the U.S. Afghans have done so and will do so.”

Fear of immigrants is as old as the Republic, and the Afghan crisis has unleashed those ancient animosities. One trope is “foreigner as terrorist.” For example, here’s Rep. Tom Tiffany of Wisconsin fulminating on Twitter: “Afghanistan is a dangerous country that is home to many dangerous people. The Biden (administration’s) plan to bring planeloads into the U.S. now and ask questions later is reckless and irresponsible.”

Tucker Carlson on Fox rages that newcomers will do more damage with ballots than with bullets. “If history is any guide, and it’s always a guide, we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country, and over the next decade, that number may swell to the millions,” Carlson said. “So first we invade, and then we are invaded.”

Fortunately, some courageous Republicans reject the barely disguised appeals to white supremacy that Carlson, Tiffany and company are selling. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois told CNN, “If anyone wants to go out and fearmonger, you are either evil in your heart yourself or you’re a charlatan who’s only interested in winning reelection.”

Republican governors, who understand the economic benefits immigrants bring to their states, have also denounced the nativists. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma — which Trump carried by 33 points — said: “I welcome Afghans fleeing the terrorist Taliban regime to come to Oklahoma and live in the freedom we hold so dearly.”

Live in freedom, yes, but also contribute to the economy. Trump won Iowa by 140,000 votes, but last month Jen Sorenson, a spokesperson for the state’s pork producers, testified before Congress and pleaded for more immigrants, not fewer.

“The U.S. pork industry is highly dependent on foreign-born employees who make tremendous contributions in their jobs and communities,” she said. “Our foreign-born workforce is an essential part of our supply chain, and we need visa reform to reflect our year-round needs.”

Individual Americans across the country have also ignored the fearmongering and welcomed refugees to their communities.

“We have never seen this kind of increase in people wanting to volunteer,” Jacqueline Buzas, program supervisor for Refugee Services of Texas, told The Washington Post. “We have people calling to say, ‘I have an extra bedroom.’ Or, ‘I’m retired and have this extra house.’ People understand the human aspects of this, having to flee this life-or-death situation. And they just open the door.”

Stephen Miller, the chief architect of Trump’s anti-immigrant strategy, surfaced on Fox News and claimed that Biden’s policy of resettling Afghan refugees in America “is not about solving a humanitarian crisis. It’s about accomplishing an ideological objective to change America.”

In a sense, of course, he’s absolutely right. Immigrants do change America — for the better. They always have. And they always will.


Steven Roberts teaches politics and journalism at George Washington University. He can be contacted by email at