Mars Adema, 40, said she had tried over the past year to convince the church’s ministries to care for immigrants, only to hear that “this is just not our focus.”
“With Afghanistan, something completely shifted,” Ms. Adema said.
In a nation that is polarized on issues from abortion to the coronavirus pandemic, Afghan refugees have cleaved a special place for many Americans, especially those who worked for U.S. forces and NGOs, or who otherwise aided the U.S. effort to free Afghanistan from the Taliban.
The moment stands in contrast to the last four years when the country, led by a president who restricted immigration and enacted a ban on travel from several majority-Muslim countries, was split over whether to welcome or shun people seeking safe haven. And with much of the electorate still deeply divided over immigration, the durability of the present welcome mat remains unknown.
Polls show Republicans are still more hesitant than Democrats to receive Afghans, and some conservative politicians have warned that the rush to resettle so many risks allowing extremists to slip through the screening process. Influential commentators, like Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, have said the refugees would dilute American culture and harm the Republican Party. Last week, he warned that the Biden administration was “flooding swing districts with refugees that they know will become loyal Democratic voters.”
But a broad array of veterans and lawmakers have long regarded Afghans who helped the United States as military partners, and have long pushed to remove the red tape that has kept them in the country under constant threat from the Taliban. Images of babies being lifted over barbed-wire fences to American soldiers, people clinging to departing planes and a deadly terrorist attack against thousands massed at the airport, desperate to leave, have moved thousands of Americans to join their effort.
“For a nation that has been so divided, it feels good for people to align on a good cause,” said Mike Sullivan, director of the Welcome to America Project in Phoenix. “This country probably hasn’t seen anything like this since Vietnam.”
Federal officials said this week that at least 50,000 Afghans who assisted the United States government or who might be targeted by the Taliban are expected to be admitted into the United States in the coming month, though the full number and the time frame of their arrival remains a work in progress. More than 31,000 Afghans have arrived already, though about half were still being processed on military bases, according to internal government documents.