John M. Bridgeland and Cecilia Muñoz
As we face tough times in America, including huge losses from the COVID-19 pandemic, one columnist wrote that America is falling apart at the seams. But there is a different story that Americans are writing as they rally behind the need to help new neighbors and the nation.
In one of the largest volunteer mobilizations in half a century, Americans and their institutions are stepping up to help our Afghan allies settle in the United States.
Within days of the evacuation of thousands of Afghans from Kabul, Americans across all backgrounds, sectors and politics started to move toward, rather than away from, the challenge of helping them relocate.
U.S. military veterans and Afghan allies
Veterans who had served side-by-side with Afghans to build a more stable Afghanistan organized greetings and served food in U.S. airports to welcome our new neighbors.
Opinions in your inbox: Get a digest of our takes on current events every day
Within weeks, U.S. airlines, the travel industry and travelers united behind a challenge to donate a billion airline miles to provide free flights for all Afghans from military bases into American communities. Airbnb.org enabled Americans to open their homes to these newcomers, giving them time to get their footing and find permanent housing.
Afghans fled their country with little more than the clothes they were wearing, so U.S. companies stepped up to provide consumer goods from clothing to diapers. Colleges and universities offered admission, free tuition, scholarships and paths to credentials many Afghans will need to secure jobs. U.S. companies have posted thousands of jobs to meet a labor shortage and to help the Afghans integrate into our economy.
None of this should be a surprise. America’s long tradition of volunteering and forming service associations to tackle a range of public challenges is as old as our country’s founding.
Alexander Vindman:Why I’m seeking accountability from Trump allies in court
In the 1830s, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville came to America to study our prisons and instead ended up writing a two-volume book marveling at our tradition of voluntary associations.
Those millions of civic opportunities and associations channel our compassion, soften our divides and teach us the habits of democracy – respect for majority rule, minority dissent and our differences as we solve problems together.
But something else historic is happening that will change the U.S. resettlement system forever and will benefit not only the Afghans, but all newcomers to America.
U.S. has history of welcoming refugees
Americans began sponsoring refugees in earnest during World War II with the infusion of 650,000 refugees mostly from a war-weary Europe, a tradition that continued in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
In 1980, the U.S. resettlement system was formalized into a federal program, with nine heroic resettlement agencies coordinating the support system that enables refugees to integrate into American communities. The magic of this moment is that this infrastructure is now expanding to take advantage of the power of civil society and Americans’ deep desire to help.
My year as a subsistence farmer. The COVID-19 supply chain crisis reached even me
In January, Welcome.US – a new initiative co-chaired by the Obamas, Bushes and Clintons – announced a first-of-its-kind partnership with Church World Service, Lions Clubs International, Samaritan’s Purse and Islamic Relief USA that creates a new pathway for service and faith organizations to be part of the resettlement system and to use the power of their vast networks to enable Americans of all walks of life to help.
This is a powerful beginning, and already a half a dozen of the most iconic service organizations in the country have said that they, too, want to take part and are mobilizing to make it work. There is a new story playing out in America, and though it’s not the one we hear on the news, it’s the one most of us are ready to author.
Individuals can support refugees
Meanwhile, the new Community Sponsorship Hub is creating, for the first time in U.S. resettlement history, opportunities for teams of individual Americans to establish private “Sponsor Circles” to directly resettle refugees and support Afghans and other refugees every step of the way in their resettlement journey – from finding stable housing to a permanent job.
For a resettlement system that was decimated over the past five years, these historic developments that tap into the tremendous capacity and compassion of Americans couldn’t come at a better time.
Not my kind of COVID escapism:‘Ozark’ and ‘Yellowstone’ are about awful people.
More Americans can join this welcoming effort by starting a Sponsor Circle, supporting the front lines through the Welcome Fund, finding opportunities in their communities and sharing their story of welcome with us at Welcome.US.
There is much to discourage – even frighten – the American people. But Americans always respond in times of crisis with their best instincts.
Even in tumultuous times such as these, Americans across political, racial, ethnic, religious and other divides are doing what we do when we are at our best – providing a welcome, offering a helping hand, and serving our neighbor and nation.
John M. Bridgeland and Cecilia Muñoz co-founded and co-chair Welcome.US. They are former directors of the White House Domestic Policy council under President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, respectively. Join the movement to help Afghan and other refugees at Welcome.US.