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Opinion: It's our responsibility to help Afghan refugees settle in Montana

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Helena Afghan Refugee Resettlement Team volunteers

Helena Afghan Refugee Resettlement Team volunteers, Karen Cooper, left, and Kim Schleicher sort through clothing donations for incoming Afghan refugees recently. 

I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012. My unit was tasked with training members of the Afghan National Army and National Police. Day and night, we lived together, worked together, and ate together. I quickly learned there were so many Afghan people caught up in turmoil but yearning to be free.

These Afghans were our partners. They fought alongside Americans, gave us valuable information, interpreted language and customs, and provided resources we needed to do our jobs.

The best word I have for these allies is “indispensable.”

As I watched the chaotic military evacuation from Afghanistan last year, my mind weighed heavy with thoughts of our Afghan allies who were now in grave danger. Three interpreters I know are still stuck in Afghanistan, hiding for fear of retribution. Because they helped U.S. troops, they and other allies face certain death at the hands of the Taliban.

The disturbing images of desperate Afghans clinging to the sides of moving airplanes tells you all you need to know about the fear many were and still are facing on the ground.

As Afghan refugees and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants are resettling here in Montana, it is my duty, and the duty of this state with a love for freedom, to assist in resettlement efforts for those who risked so much to help us.

I know that statement is met with some trepidation. But the fears about vetting and potential danger linked to refugees are overstated.

Refugees, especially SIV applicants, are the most heavily vetted immigrant group to enter this country. They go through rigorous background checks, and their information is run through multiple U.S. agency databases. SIVs must have documented history of working with the U.S. and must have recommendations from service members or embassy officials.

Overall, research finds no relationship between U.S. refugee resettlement and increased crime. The instances where a resettled refugee does commit a crime are the exception, not the rule. Any Afghans who do commit crimes after arriving here should of course be held accountable like anyone else. But they shouldn’t dictate how we view Afghan refugees as a whole.

Fellow Afghanistan veterans and I served alongside some of the most incredible Afghan people. They came to our aid, they helped us accomplish our missions, and in some cases, they saved our lives. In return, we promised we’d protect them and their families.

Caring for the Afghan refugees here in Montana is how we honor that promise.

My organization, Concerned Veterans for America Foundation, has led donation drives to ensure those being housed on nearby bases had the resources they needed — food, clothing, toiletries, housing, and even toys for their children. Every day we partner up with other nonprofits doing resettlement work to maximize our efforts. I encourage you to connect with CVA Foundation or another nonprofit to get involved in our work.

Helping those who helped us is our responsibility. That is who we are as veterans and who we are as Americans.

I hope you will join me in welcoming our Afghan allies and their families to Montana.

Chris Enget is a grassroots engagement director with Concerned Veterans for America Foundation and a U.S. Army veteran. He lives in Billings.

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