(CN) — Aminullah worried about his family. An interpreter and liaison for USAID and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, he was getting threatening calls and letters telling him to stop working with Americans.
As the threats escalated, Aminullah’s life in Afghanistan grew increasingly unsettled. “It was too dangerous for me to drive my little soft-skinned car,” he told Courthouse News in a phone interview. Aminullah’s last name has been redacted to help protect family members still in Afghanistan.
That’s why, in 2016, he said he realized it was time to leave. Using a special immigrant visa (SIV) — a type of visa offered to Afghans who helped U.S. coalition forces — he was able to move to the United States, where he settled in Texas.
The transition wasn’t always easy — Aminullah worked long hours as a cashier before finding work helping other refugees — but at least his family was safe.
Aminullah’s journey to the United States — which involved meticulous planning and a two-week stint in Kabul — shows the complex process of funneling Afghan allies to safety during less complicated times. It also highlights the contrast in scenes from Kabul this week, as the city’s sudden fall to the Taliban prompted stampedes at the airport.
So far, at least 70,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan, including Afghans with special immigrant visas or those who qualify for them. The International Rescue Committee says around 300,000 Afghans are in “great danger” and will likely need to be evacuated.
As Afghan refugees arrive in the United States, politicians on both sides of the aisle — including some very conservative Republicans — have rushed to welcome them.
It’s a sharp departure from the Trump era, when the former president tried to ban travel from Afghanistan with little pushback from his party. It’s also a shift from even further back, to the years after the Vietnam War, which saw dismal levels of support for refugee immigration from the public.
As Afghans land, two ports of entry — Virginia and Texas — offer a window into these shifting political sands.
In Virginia — one of the nation’s most quickly diversifying states, where around 20,000 Afghans are expected to ultimately settle — the state’s Democratic leadership has eagerly welcomed the refugees currently arriving at Dulles Airport near D.C. and Fort Lee outside Richmond. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam tweeted he was “willing to take thousands more.”
Closer to Richmond, Democratic Congresswoman and former CIA Agent Abigail Spanberger said her office was working overtime to assist Afghans — similar to those she worked with during her years in the service — in need. Meanwhile, on the other side of the political aisle, Republican Congressman Rob Wittman has also voiced his support for resettling Afghans in America.
“Images of Afghanistan’s collapse, and the brutal horrors inflicted on the Afghan people by the Taliban, weigh heavily upon hearts across the nation,” Wittman said in a statement.
In conservative Texas, where hundreds of Afghan refugees have arrived at Fort Bliss in El Paso, the reception has been almost as warm.
Republican Governor Greg Abbott, who has spent recent months warning that migrants at the border were bringing “carnage,” has, as recently as early 2020, tried unsuccessfully to block refugee resettlement in Texas. But he’s stayed quiet on the issue of Afghans, and his office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
While fears of illegal immigration have climbed steeply during the Biden presidency, debates about migration on the southern border don’t translate as neatly to the current Afghan refugee crisis.
Congressional politicians across Texas — from Republican Congressman Michael McCaul to Democratic Congresswoman Sylvia Garcia — have reflected these changing attitudes by welcoming refugees and calling on the federal government to expedite their rescue.