While the final numbers probably won’t be released for a while, it’s clear that Wisconsin is playing a significant role in helping Afghan evacuees following the Taliban’s takeover. Officials have suggested as many as 10,000 Afghans may eventually be placed in temporary housing at Fort McCoy.
This isn’t the first time Wisconsin has stepped up to help, and these are stunningly similar conditions. The Hmong community that now enriches Eau Claire and the surrounding area arrived in large part in the waning days of South Vietnam, as the government collapsed amid invasion by North Vietnam.
Then, as now, the refugees were largely those who had placed their futures in the hands of U.S. policymakers by aiding our armed forces during a long, drawn-out, unconventional conflict. Then, as now, their lives were in danger when forces inimical to American values and our approach to governance took control of their homeland.
And Wisconsin residents are again coming forward to help. One store in Stevens Point announced it would serve as a drop-off site for donations to aid the refugees. Others will surely follow. Organizations like the Red Cross are assembling kits to help as well.
It is right that we do so as a state. These people and their families helped our soldiers. They took risks to help them stay safe. Their help undoubtedly saved the lives of American service members. It may be impossible to quantify just how many funerals or casualties they prevented, but there are unquestionably soldiers alive today who would not be if not for the help Afghan citizens provided.
It is also right that we say there needs to be a plan for how to handle this influx. There needs to be a plan for how to give the children enough education in English that they can eventually adapt to our schools. There needs to be a plan for how to ensure their parents can find employment and the kind of future so many generations have come to our country to seek.
We cannot allow concerns about problems that have yet to happen to stall efforts to smooth the way forward. The reception and eventual integration of these people into our nation cannot be as chaotic as the situation from which they were removed.
The process will probably not be as smooth as we might hope. There are always snags when you’re talking about this many people. There are always challenges when you bring people from different cultures together. Just look at history
Every generation of immigrants has faced eerily similar questions and objections. There were concerns about whether Irish immigration in the 1840s would alter our country’s social and religious makeup. Similar objections followed the increase in immigration from Eastern Europe in the latter half of that century.
After the Civil War, states began to try to restrict immigration from Asia. In 1882 Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Increases in immigration from Italy peaked in the early 1900s and, again, there was considerable consternation.
In each case, people fretted in remarkably familiar terms about whether the new arrivals would assimilate, whether they would drag down American culture. Each wave brought objections. Each time those who arrived had to create a new path.
And, each time, they did so.
Yes, our country changed with each wave of immigration. It could hardly do otherwise. In the long run we gained from it. The children and grandchildren of immigrants became business owners, social leaders, elected officials. In short they became, indisputably, Americans.
There is no concrete reason to believe that will not happen in time with these new arrivals. That process will be made easier, though, if our political leaders take the time to plan for the next several years. Permanent refugee camps aren’t a solution. If people are still living at Fort McCoy as refugees five years from now, it will be fair to say something has gone badly wrong.
It would be unworthy of us to let these people, who have already gone through so much, become forgotten, unregarded victims of a situation they did not create. They aided us in hopes of rebuilding their nation. That hope lies shattered.
Let us give them a new hope, the same one so many of our own ancestors shared.