David Lias

David Lias

Last January, during her State of the State address, Gov. Kristi Noem urged people to consider moving to South Dakota, to settle the plains much like our ancestors did.

“One of my chief priorities as governor is to grow South Dakota. That is why you hear me inviting those who cherish and value our way of life to come join us. South Dakota is the perfect place to raise your family, grow your business, and live your life as you see fit. My administration continues to do everything in its power to help in this effort,” Noem said.

It's a message that’s so different than the one she broadcast to the world on Twitter in August.

“The priority should be getting all Americans and the Afghans who served alongside us out of the country quickly & safely,” the governor tweeted. “After that, we need to thoroughly vet those Afghans before they come to America. I don't currently have confidence in the Biden Admin's vetting process.”

So, we should vet “those” Afghans using a process that gets a big thumbs down from our governor.

Noem isn’t exactly putting out the welcome mat. Perhaps, in January, she should have clarified that only certain people are welcome here.

President Biden emphasized at about the same time the governor made her tweet that refugees who are being evacuated from Afghanistan will be thoroughly vetted before they are brought to the United States, according to a report published in “The Hill.”

Biden’s comments, which he made during a speech from the White House on the evacuation effort, came as some conservative lawmakers and commentators have tried to stoke nativist concerns about welcoming Afghan refugees into the U.S.

It appears that we can include Noem among those “stoking conservatives.”

“Planes taking off from Kabul are not flying directly to the United States. They’re landing at U.S. military bases and transit centers around the world,” Biden said. “At these sites where they are landing, we are conducting thorough … security screening for everyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. Anyone arriving in the United States will have undergone a background check.”

I think we can all agree that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has caused a chaotic situation regarding Afghan refugees.

However, there’s no evidence that our nation’s vetting process has changed. There’s nothing wrong in wanting our state and our communities to remain safe when chaos is breaking out in other parts of the globe. Noem and others shouldn’t just make up stuff to try to convince people she’s working to achieve that goal.

This is a time when South Dakota should be reaching out to help. It doesn’t matter if the occupant of the White House is a Democrat or a Republican.

Afghan refugees should be given the opportunity to experience the American dream and those refugees shouldn’t be limited to “Afghans who served alongside us,” as Noem believes.

This is a time for South Dakota to welcome all people from Afghanistan who, after being thoroughly vetted, arrive in the United States.

Lutheran Social Services officials said in August they were gathering information as the U.S. government looks for communities to help resettle Afghan refugees displaced by the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan.

Rebecca Kiesow-Knudsen, the chief operating officer of LSS, told the Argus Leader the situation is both complicated and rapidly evolving.

Until recently, she said, 10 states had been prioritized for the resettlement of refugees with an Afghan Special Immigrant Visa. South Dakota was not among them, mostly because of the lack of a significant Afghan population that could help integrate incoming refugees.

But LSS officials were informed in late August that as the government looks to resettle even more Afghan refugees, they're looking for information on communities "interested and able" to accept them.

Noem should sending out a strong message: South Dakota is just what the LSS is looking for. We are a state that is “interested and able” to welcome Afghan refugees and introduce them to life in South Dakota.

The United States has long been a safe place for people fleeing war, conflict, and persecution.

Welcoming refugees into the United States is not only a secure, vetted, and safe practice — it's also good for communities, creating safer towns and more prosperous economies.

Refugee organizations here in South Dakota that you and I and certainly the governor can support to welcome Afghan refugees include:

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service

For over 80 years, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service has been a champion for refugees and migrants from around the globe.

This organization’s legacy of compassionate service has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have found safety and hope in America’s communities.

Its history reflects American Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers, especially those who are most in need.

Through a program called “Long Welcome,” Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service helps ensure that refugees and migrants are protected, embraced and empowered in a world of just and welcoming communities.

You can volunteer, advocate, engage your community or make a financial donation. Learn more about the organization here: https://www.lirs.org/

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is also a source of hope for Afghan refugees.

The organization notes on its web page that refugees are individuals who have fled their countries of origin and who are unable or unwilling to return due to a "well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion."

USCCB, in partnership with its network of 50 refugee resettlement affiliate offices across the country, has historically relied upon parishes and other local community groups to “welcome the stranger,” according to its web page.

The Parishes Organized to Welcome Immigrants and Refugees (POWIR) initiative seeks to develop a base of support through community sponsorship, mentorship, and volunteerism to welcome newly arrived refugees and Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders (SIVs).

To learn more about how you can support refugees and SIVs in your community, please contact mrspowir@usccb.org.

Last January, Noem called on non-South Dakotans to “come join us” and move to the state.

Come join us, Afghan refugees. We can offer you safety. We have the ability to help you find a home in our communities, to find a job, to offer you a way of life that we too often take for granted.

We can give you the opportunity to experience true freedom. Come join us.


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