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Trump aid aims to bolster GOP opposition to Afghan refugees

As tens of thousands of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban arrive in the United States, a handful of former Trump administration officials are working to turn Republicans against them.

Former officials are drafting position papers, appearing on conservative TV stations, and meeting privately with GOP lawmakers – all in a bid to turn the collapse of Afghanistan into yet another opportunity to push forward an agenda of intransigent immigration.

“It is a collaboration based on mutual conviction,” said Stephen Miller, the architect of President Donald Trump’s most conservative immigration policies and among those who have engaged on the issue. “My focus has been on speaking to members of Congress to gain support for opposing the Biden administration’s comprehensive plans for refugees.”

The approach is not taken by all Republican leaders, with some calling it mean and at odds with Christian teachings that are important to white evangelicals who play a vital role in the party base. The strategy relies on tactics that were common during Trump’s tenure and which have discouraged many voters, including racist tropes, fear, and false allegations.

And hardliners pay little attention to the human reality unfolding in Afghanistan, where those who worked with the Americans during the war are desperate to flee for fear of being killed by the new Taliban regime.

But Republicans pushing the issue are betting they can open a new front in the culture wars they have waged since President Joe Biden’s election by combining the anti-immigrant sentiment that has helped fuel Trump’s political rise. with widespread dissatisfaction with the Afghan withdrawal. This, they hope, could keep GOP voters motivated ahead of next year’s midterms, when congressional control is on the line.

“From a political standpoint, cultural issues are the most important issues that concern the American people,” said Russ Vought, former Trump budget chief and chairman of the Center for Renewing America, a nonprofit group which works to build opposition to the settlement of Afghan refugees in the United States as well as other burning issues, such as critical race theory, which views American history through the prism of racism.

His group is working, he said, to “sort of break through that unanimity that has existed” that the withdrawal has been chaotic, but that the Afghan refugees deserve to come to the United States.

Officials insist that every Afghan heading into the country undergoes an extensive screening that includes extensive biometric and biographical examinations carried out by intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism personnel. In a pair of hearings this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said these “stringent security checks” began in transit countries before the refugees arrived in the United States and continued at bases. US military before anyone was resettled. Checks continue as refugees await further processing.

But Trump and his allies, who worked to sharply reduce refugee admissions during their tenure, insist refugees are a threat.

“Who are all the people entering our country? Trump asked in a recent statement. “How many terrorists are there among them?

With the United States facing a host of challenges, it’s unclear whether voters will see immigration as a top priority next year. It was a key motivator for voters in the 2018 midterm elections, with 4 in 10 Republicans identifying it as the number one issue facing the country, according to data from AP VoteCast. But it became much less salient two years later, when just 3% of voters in 2020 – including 5% Republicans – named it the No.1 problem the country faces amid the COVID pandemic – 19 and related economic issues.

As for refugees, 68% of Americans say they support the United States to welcome those fleeing Afghanistan after a security check, according to a Washington Post / ABC News poll in late August and early September. This includes a majority – 56% – of Republicans.

Party leaders are far from united. Dozens of Republican lawmakers and their offices have worked tirelessly to try to help Afghans flee the country. And some, like Senator Thom Tillis, RN.C., berated those in his party who suggested the Afghans posed a security risk.

Some of the skepticism expressed by the right has been exacerbated by the Biden administration’s refusal to date to account for who may have left Afghanistan during the chaotic US evacuation campaign from Kabul airport .

The State Department said more than 23,800 Afghans arrived in the United States between August 17 and August 31. Thousands more remain at US military sites overseas for screening and other treatment. But officials said they are still working to compile the breakdown of the number of applicants for the special immigrant visa program designed to help Afghan interpreters and others who have served side-by-side with Americans, how many are considered other “Afghans at risk,” such as journalists and human rights defenders, and how many fall into other categories.

The War Time Allies organization estimates that up to 20,000 special visa applicants remain in the country, not counting their families and others eligible to come to the United States.

Ken Cuccinelli, who served as Trump’s acting deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security and is now a senior researcher at the Center for Renewing America, says he doesn’t think refugees have been given sufficient scrutiny.

“It’s impractical for a simple administrative matter,” he said of the process. While Cuccinelli, like Miller, believes SIV should be allowed to come to the United States, he argues that other refugees should be resettled in the area, closer to home.

“The massive importation of hundreds of thousands of people who do not share American cultural, political or ideological commonalities poses serious risks to both national security and social cohesion at large,” he wrote in a recent position paper on the group’s website that quotes Pew. Survey by the Center for Research on Beliefs Concerning Sharia Law and Suicide Attacks.

Other former administration officials strongly disagree with such inflammatory language.

“Some of the people who have always been hardliners on immigration mistakenly see this as a pre-midterm opportunity to, for lack of a better term, stir up the fear of ‘I don’t want these. people in my country, ”said Alyssa Farah, a former Pentagon press secretary who also served as White House communications director under Trump.

Farah said she had made an effort to “politely shift Republican sentiment” from arguments she saw both bogus and politically questionable. The Republican Party, she noted, includes a majority of veterans – many of whom have worked closely with Afghans on the ground and led the effort to help their former colleagues escape – as well as evangelical Christians, who have historically welcomed refugees with open arms.

“It totally ignores the public sentiment that Republicans should not be for the relocation of Afghan refugees who have served alongside the United States,” she said. “The Christian community is there. The veterans community is for that.”

___ Associated Press writers Hannah Fingerhut in Washington, Julie Watson in San Diego, and Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.


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