The honorable thing

In January of 1979, after his seminal CBS News special on the Vietnamese boat people fleeing the communist regime, Ed Bradley stood on Ellis Island. He told America, “For us the Vietnam War is over. And, like it or not, we lost that war. But, while there, we sold many of its people a way of life, an attitude. And now they are the losers. And we face moral dilemma.”

In Afghanistan, history is repeating itself.

On February 4, President Biden signed an executive order that included, a “review of the Iraqi and Afghan SIV programs and submit a report to the President with recommendations to address any concerns identified.” The review is to be completed in 180 days, or by August 3, 2021.

Then, on April 14, Biden announced he would withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021.

Now, the New York Times is reporting that the Pentagon is accelerating the removal of troops from Afghanistan.

For tens of thousands of Afghan nationals who helped our military, the faster withdrawal brings what could be a deadly day of reckoning even closer.

It is estimated that there are some 18,000 Afghans in the current Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) backlog, not including their family members. The Truman Center reports a figure of 70,000 “Afghans in waiting.” In short, there is a target on the back of tens of thousands of Afghan nationals who helped U.S. troops. And they can’t get out.

Fortunately, Democrats and Republicans are working together. Bipartisan legislation has been filed to increase the number of SIVs available, and to allow Afghan SIV applicants to skip the medical examination so as to expedite processing. But that will not be enough.

The Biden administration needs to move with urgency to devise a plan to evacuate current Afghan SIV applicants, their family members, and any additional Afghan allies who would be eligible for humanitarian protection in the U.S. to a safe location while their applications are processed. This is not unprecedented. We’ve done this before.

In fact, one day after Bradley’s January 1979 broadcast, Governor Robert Ray of Iowa (R) “wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter, stating that if he would just reopen America’s doors to these boat people, Iowa would double its refugee intake.” He was the first and only governing official in the world to commit to saving the boat people.

To state the obvious, 2021 is not 1979. Our immigration debate is weaponized by cable television forces claiming immigrants will “replace” Americans.

Well, turns out we really need immigrants.

The new decennial census counted 331,449,281 Americans, up by just 7.4 percent over the previous decade — the slowest rate of growth since the 1930s. Experts attribute this significant drop to decreased immigration, a declining birth rate and the aging of the country’s white population.

The Trump administration’s approach to immigration didn’t help: only 595,000 immigrants joined the US population in 2019 — from a high of just over 1 million in 2015–2016.

Earlier this year, my colleague Danilo Zak and I made the case the U.S. has “Room to Grow,” and that we should increase immigration by 37% over the figure projected for 2020 annually in order to maintain our current Old Age Dependency Ratio of 3.54 working age adults to adults at retirement age.

Referencing our work, Axios’ Bryan Walsh wrote, “The U.S.’ sharply declining rate of population growth threatens to put an expiration date on a country built around a vision of endless reinvention.”

And, in the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo cited our report to make the case, “[T]o stave off the worst effects of slowing growth, we don’t need to smash open the borders and let in the whole world. All we have to do is become the same welcoming nation we once were.”

The fact is we are not the welcoming nation we once were. At all.

The Cato Institute found that nearly half of Democrats support an increase in immigration, compared to just 21% of independents and only 11% of Republicans. And those who seek lower levels of immigration are less likely to have a college education, likely to earn less than $100,000 annually, and more likely to live in less populated areas.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, these are also Americans less likely to have access to 401(k) retirement accounts, and therefore more reliant on a solvent Social Security system, and likely to depend on nursing home and other health care as they age. (Industries where immigrants are disproportionately represented.)

Which brings me back to the dire need to evacuate Afghan nationals who helped the U.S. military.

In this case, the honorable thing is also the right thing.

Let’s make sure that those who helped protect Americans and American values in Afghanistan have the opportunity to become Americans themselves.

We needed them there.

We need them here.




President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.

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Ali Noorani

Ali Noorani

President and CEO of National Immigration Forum, author of “Crossing Borders” (April 2022, Rowman & Littlefield), host of the podcast, Only in America.

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