America Shamed Itself in 2021 — Must We Continue Down the Same Path?

Afghan refugee family crossing U.S. southern border

Following America’s shameful, chaotic flight from Kabul in August 2021, I wrote to my senators and congressman in Washington and, in two blog posts ( and, to my friends and family. I said, in part,

It is … reprehensible for the U.S. to be so callous in neglecting the safety of the thousands of Afghan citizens who fought and suffered alongside our troops. We gave them our solemn promise that if worse came to worst, we would evacuate them and their families. This is a moral debt we cannot run from. It is to America’s undying shame if we do.

We owe a moral obligation to all those Afghans who fought beside U.S., NATO and other allied troops, translated for us, worked in our embassy and assisted all the U.S. agencies working in Afghanistan.

They and their families are frantically seeking to get out of that country. If we leave them behind, the Taliban will very likely murder them. This would be a bloody and indelible stain on our country. We must not allow it to happen.

We must guarantee safe passage out of Afghanistan not only for U.S. citizens and green card holders, but for all those who have supported and assisted us — and for their families. Otherwise, their deaths and suffering will be America’s responsibility. And the damage to our country’s honor will be beyond repair.1

In the 21 months since then, I have been dismayed (but, I’m sorry to say, not surprised) to read numerous reports about the thousands of desperate people that we did, in fact, leave behind. I’ve also read about the heroic efforts of private groups and individuals who have been doing everything possible to extract a lucky few from the ghastly fate to which they had been abandoned and bring them to safety, at least, in the USA.

Several days ago, in the New York Times, I read an account of the journey of just a handful of those we had left behind. These “lucky ones” had somehow managed to eventually escape Afghanistan and, at great expense and with considerable difficulty, travel halfway around the globe. But not to the United States, the refuge they sought and in many cases had suffered for, but, rather, to South America. From there, they endured unimaginable hardships as they spent months making their way overland more than 6,000 miles to the U.S. border. (That mileage is given as the crow flies; their actual journey, by bus, smuggler vehicles and their own feet — including a harrowing trek across Panama’s notorious Darien Gap — was incalculably longer.)

The cause of my dismay was what awaited them at our southern border: double fencing, a high wall that could be scaled for a chance to drop a long way to a hoped-for soft landing, or drainage tunnels under the barriers, all of which, once traversed, often led to detention centers or even being transported back to Mexico. Or — in the best case — to documentation as an “alien present in the United States” with a court date two years off, halfway across the country, and without permission to legally work during the waiting period.

As the Times article pointed out,

Fewer than 25,000 Afghans have received special visas or refugee status in the United States since the airlifts in 2021, government data shows. And the options are scarcer for people who didn’t work with the United States but might still be in danger.

Roughly 52,000 Afghans have applied for a program called humanitarian parole. As of mid-April [2023], just 760 people had been approved.

By comparison, more than 300,000 Ukrainians arrived in the United States under various programs in just over a year.

I am as aware as anyone who follows the news of the flood of “asylum seekers” at our southern border. (Many of these are actually economic migrants rather than people fleeing persecution who fear for their lives.) However, I believe that our Afghan allies and friends, like the Ukrainians who have fled indiscriminate Russian bombing, deserve not only preferential treatment, but a welcome with open arms. I certainly also feel sympathy for migrants from Latin America and Haiti, most of whom are in search of economic opportunity, just like so many of our ancestors who came to America in times of more normal, if also massive, immigration. However, I believe that true refugees, such as those from Afghanistan and Ukraine, strongly deserve preference.

I hope that anyone who reads this will agree with my thinking and will share it with their representatives in Washington. Perhaps they will also consider assisting some of the organizations2 that are trying to help these desperate people. Thank you.


  1. Beyond the damage to America’s honor is the damage our helter-skelter exit from Afghanistan did to our reputation — particularly to the credibility of our commitments to friends and allies around the world. I’m hardly alone in believing that the fact and manner of our retreat from Afghanistan emboldened Putin to widen his war against Ukraine in February 2022. I believe it also emboldens China’s Xi Jinping as he contemplates invading Taiwan. And I feel sure it encourages the despotic mullahs’ regime in Iran as well to continue developing — and burying deep beneath a mountain — the nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities it needs to visit a second Holocaust upon the Jews of Israel.
  2. “Members of the #AfghanEvac coalition collaborate on the full pipeline [of assistance] from humanitarian support on the ground through relocation opportunities and resettlement efforts.”
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