Chris George, the executive director of IRIS, a refugee assistance nonprofit in New Haven, Connecticut, recently told the Denver Channel that as many as 100,000 Afghan refugees could enter the United States over the next several months. Afghan refugees coming into the US is sparking a Right-wing reaction reminiscent to the type of rhetoric that we were hearing in 2014 to 2017 when Europe was going through its refugee crisis and its political aftermath. Stephen Miller, the former advisor to Trump and a reader of the American eugenist organization, American Renaissance, has come out with his typical political agitation, stating: “It is becoming increasingly clear that Biden & his radical deputies will use their catastrophic debacle in Afghanistan as a pretext for doing to America what Angela Merkel did to Germany & Europe,” adding that Biden wants to bring in refugees in the “many hundreds of thousands.”
As a new refugee crisis is erupting, so the anti-refugee sentiment (and climate) is reviving back to the same sort of energy that we began to see in 2015. The debate concerning Afghanistan is now shifting towards anti-immigration and linguistic nationalism. For example, when Congress was trying to pass a Capitol security funding bill that would reserve $1.1 billion for Afghan refugee assistance and would create 8,000 new Afghan Special Immigrant Visas (which puts special attention on Afghans who assisted the US military against the Taliban and would thus be huge targets for the terrorists), Senator Rand Paul went against the bill and stated:
“I think those who speak English and are our friends should stay and fight for their country …I think if they all leave we’re more likely to see the Taliban take over.”
The bill was passed unanimously, but of course not without resistance. Just a few days ago Tucker Carlson told his audience on Fox News that they should expect Afghan refugees being settled in their neighborhoods: “If history is any guide—and it’s always a guide —we will see many refugees from Afghanistan resettle in our country in the coming months, probably in your neighborhood”. As if the Afghan refugees are going to be parked right into suburbia. When refugees first get housing in the US, its usually a rental apartment. But, refugees are not just going to be sitting around doing nothing and taking welfare. The great majority of refugees end up buying their own homes; they have high rates of labor participation and tax revenue coming from refugees can far exceed the government costs for their resettlement. As we read Housing Matters:
Upon arrival, refugees work with a resettlement agency to secure housing, typically a market-rate apartment for rent. They are colocated with access to public transit, employment opportunities, and educational institutions. From there, refugees can pursue various housing trajectories. Many stay in the private rental market. Others become homeowners; 57 percent of refugees in the US own their own home, with one in seven households owning their home outright. Some participate in affordable housing programs. According to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) Annual Survey of Refugees 2016, 16 percent of respondents were receiving housing assistance four to six years after arrival.
Although the main goals of refugee resettlement are humanitarian, evidence shows that refugee integration can lead to high rates of labor participation (sometimes exceeding native-born rates), increases in income the longer refugees remain in the US, and tax contributions that outweigh resettlement costs. Sometimes, refugees can be catalysts for neighborhood revitalization and economic growth as they seek low-cost areas to buy a home and reinvest in the community. Refugees strengthen the fabric of US communities.
Regardless of these facts, people like Tucker will continue to stoke up the fear and ignite more Right-wing hysteria. Refugees from Afghanistan also want to get into Europe, and this is only going to spark more ultra-nationalism within the EU. In fact, the atmosphere for such demographic tensions is so real and present that politicians that would be considered moderate are entertaining the sentiment. As we read in the Financial Times:
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European leaders of all stripes worry the continent may face a huge influx of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, boosting rightwing populists ahead of elections in Germany and France. That fear prompted politicians from Stockholm to Athens this week to insist there could be “no repeat of 2015”. Emmanuel Macron, who is set to run for a second term as French president next year, was among them. “We must anticipate and protect ourselves against significant irregular flows of migration that would endanger those who use them and fuel trafficking of all kinds,” he told the nation in a TV address.
Even if massive waves of migrants don’t show up, the fact remains that the fear is there and the climate is ripe for nationalist propaganda.