Governor, State Lawmakers Offer to Resettle Afghan Refugees in Oregon

Governor Kate Brown issued a statement Wednesday offering to resettle Afghan refugees in Oregon and urging President Joe Biden to lift the refugee admission cap to allow more of them into the U.S.

The governor’s missive followed a letter she received from Democratic lawmakers who have personally experienced the challenges thousands of fleeing Afghan refugees will face in the wake of the Taliban’s recapture of their country following a chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces earlier this month.

“In Oregon, we welcome refugees from around the world, recognizing that resettlement is a lifeline our country provides for survivors of violence and oppression,” Brown said. “We all thrive when we accept refugees into our communities. We benefit from the diversity of thought, opinion, and culture that refugee families bring.”

Oregon has welcomed more than 75,000 refugees since 1975, the governor said, adding that these communities “are a vital part of the fabric of Oregon’s history, culture, and economy.”

Brown’s letter, in particular, called on the United States to protect and shelter Afghan allies who have worked alongside American service members as interpreters and other support roles, and those who may face persecution or even death under the oppressive Taliban regime.

A Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit provides fresh water to a child during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul Friday.

“The lives of Afghan women and girls are at risk simply because they had the audacity to learn in school and pursue careers,” she wrote. “Equal rights advocates are being targeted for seeking a more just future with equal rights for all.

“Members of the LGBTQIA+ community in Afghanistan are in danger because of who they are and who they love. Oregon is ready to welcome any and all Afghans who would make our state their home.”

The governor’s letter calls on the Biden administration to lift its annual cap on how many refugees from all nations can be admitted to the U.S. It’s currently at 62,500 — already a sharp increase from the previous limit of 15,000 under former President Donald Trump.

The letter by Sen. Kayse Jama and Rep. Khanh Pham, which was signed by almost 50 other Democratic legislators, made a similar point, noting the parallels between the fall of Afghanistan’s capital city, Kabul, and the toppling of Saigon, which marked the end of U.S. military involvement in Vietnam in 1975.

“Events in Afghanistan echo the departure of the United States from Saigon following the end of the Vietnam War,” the letter read. “In 1975, the United States lifted refugee caps to allow more than 125,000 families to resettle in communities across the country.”

A Marine with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit provides security during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul this week.

Among them were Rep. Pham’s parents.

“I just viscerally feel that sense of panic and fear that so many Afghan families are feeling right now,” Pham told The Oregonian.

Jama is himself a refugee from Somalia and the first refugee senator in Oregon history.

“I will put my anger and my frustration and put it into action, so the letter that both Representative Pham and I did was in response to us as individual human beings, but also as leaders,” he told the paper.

The Biden administration has accepted only 485 Afghans seeking refuge in the U.S. since January, according to the State Department, a number that pales in comparison to the 2,700 under Obama’s administration in 2016.

Marines assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit calm infants during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

Experts in Oregon and nationally blame the low numbers on the Trump administration’s deep cuts to resettlement programs across the country. More than 100 refugee resettlement programs nationwide shuttered their doors in 2019.

The Oregon Legislature, however, passed a bill in 2019 that shielded its resettlement programs from the worst of the cuts and has invested about $8.3 million into the programs over the past two years, according to Jama.

“So I think in many ways, you know, Oregon is ready to serve and receive refugees from Afghanistan,” he said.

Brown echoed his remarks.

“Oregon is ready to welcome our refugee sisters and brothers from Afghanistan, and the rest of the world,” she wrote. “Oregon will continue to be a welcoming and inclusive place for all who call our state home – including and especially our immigrant and refugee communities.”

A Marine checks the well-being of evacuees’ during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.

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