‘We have a moral obligation’: Democrats consider using infrastructure money for Afghan refugees

Progressive lawmaker says US has to ‘marshal an international coalition to evacuate every Afghan citizen who is fleeing for their lives’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 17 August 2021 16:49 BST
Related video: Taliban says US must stick to 9/11 exit date but ‘we will not attack them’
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Some congressional Democrats are exploring the option of using some of the money from their proposed $3.5 trillion infrastructure reconciliation bill for the resettlement of Afghan refugees.

President Joe Biden defended the ongoing withdrawal of the US presence in Afghanistan in a White House speech on Monday. Democrats who agreed with the premise of removing US troops from the country but are troubled by the execution of the mission, with images of desperate civilians hanging on to US military planes being shared on social media, are hurriedly trying to find ways of protecting vulnerable Afghans as the Taliban carry out their complete takeover of the country.

Women and girls are overwhelmingly likely to lose their civil rights under the Taliban, and interpreters and others who have worked with the US over the last 20 years fear retribution from the extremist group and don’t trust Taliban assurances that there’s no need to worry.

The $3.5 trillion plan is expected to pass Congress on a one-party basis through the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 50 votes in the Senate for passage by avoiding the filibuster. But this also means that the Democrats can’t lose a single vote in the 50-50 chamber, including those of moderates like Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

The discussions surrounding the possibility of resettling Afghan refugees have just begun and will progress over the next several weeks, Axios reported.

Many in the progressive caucus within the Democratic Party agree with Mr Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and still contend that he made the right decision even while they’re angered at the possibility that some Afghans could be left behind to face Taliban violence.

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar said the US should “marshal an international coalition to evacuate every Afghan citizen who is fleeing for their lives”.

New York Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on Monday: “We have a moral obligation to the Afghan people. The US role in this crisis is indisputable. We must waste no time or expense in helping refugees safely and swiftly leave Afghanistan. We must immediately welcome them to the US and provide real support as they rebuild their lives.”

Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote: “After 20 years of US effort, the loss of 2,448 soldiers and a trillion spent, Afghanistan was left with a corrupt government and an ineffectual military. At this moment, we must do everything we can to evacuate our allies and open our doors to refugees.”

Mr Biden is facing criticism from both sides of the aisle from people who think his administration lacked a proper plan for how to evacuate all those who helped the US during its occupation and now fear for their lives.

A progressive House aide told Axios that they’re pushing the White House to provide an evacuation plan within the next day.

Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan said on Monday that his state intends to welcome more Afghan interpreters than they had previously planned because of the ongoing crisis in the country.

Rana Abdelhamid is a liberal challenger to New York Rep Carolyn Maloney. She told Axios that some House Democrats who supported the war have shown a “deep lack of engagement” and “deafening silence”.

“The US leaves a political vacuum where the same women they claimed to save are the ones paying the cost,” Ms Abdelhamid tweeted on Monday. “Now, the Taliban, an evil force of violence, has only increased its human rights abuses and destruction of Afghan civil society. The US must hold itself accountable.”

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