WASHINGTON - Former Obama and Bush administration officials are launching, a new organization aimed to help streamline the process of resettling the roughly 65,000 Afghans forced out of their home country and now making the United States their home.
Welcome.US will bring together top refugee organizations, the government and major businesses to engage with Americans on how to help with resettlement efforts for Afghan refugees.
"America has long been a beacon of hope and refuge for those in search of safety," Welcome.US Co-Chairs Cecilia Muñoz and John Bridgeland told USA TODAY. "This effort to welcome Afghans who have already contributed so much will enrich us all by their very presence and show the world America at our very best."
The United States evacuated Afghanistan last month after nearly 20 years in the country, where officials evacuated more than 120,000 people from the country. Of the total, about 65,000 were Afghan refugees.
Many of the refugees who have come to the United States were applicants of the Special Immigrant Visa program, which is a visa for Afghan nationals who helped the United States during the war, or Afghans who would be vulnerable under the now Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
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Muñoz is the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama and Bridgeland is the former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush.
Bush and former first lady Laura Bush, ex-President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Clinton, and Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are honorary co-chairs of the organization.
The new organization will work with local and state officials, businesses, veterans' groups, faith-based organizations and the top refugee organizations to engage with Americans on how they can help the Afghan refugees, who will need clothes, food, and homes as they have come with virtually nothing from their home country.
In addition, as part of the organization, there will also be a Welcome Fund, which will provide grants to nonprofits who are working directly with resettling Afghan refugees. Businesses such as Walmart have pledged grants to the group. Starbucks has also said they will donate $350,000 to refugee organizations. Instacart has said it will donate 25,000 culturally sensitive meals to Afghans who are resettling in the U.S.
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Although the United States is out of Afghanistan, officials are still working to evacuate American citizens who were left behind, as well as the thousands of Afghan visa applicants who also were not evacuated from the country.
Former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who President Joe Biden appointed to temporarily serve as the point person on resettling Afghan evacuees in the United States, said Welcome.US will make the resettlement process more effective, not only in the short term but to help get Afghans adjusted in the long term as well. Markell said that resettlements will begin "in earnest in the coming weeks."
Markell noted that the Afghans coming to the United States after 20 years have supported the United States in their efforts and said Americans "know that our Afghan allies will help strengthen our communities, just as refugees and as immigrants, always have."
Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said nine major resettlement agencies had individually been working on an emergency response to help resettle Afghans, but now there is a "single point of entry" for Americans to get involved.
"This is a historic opportunity for us to show our new Afghan neighbors and the world the best of our country in demonstrating a collective, bipartisan broad coalition, coming together to provide essential services," she said.
Reach Rebecca Morin at Twitter @RebeccaMorin_
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-Obama, Bush officials launch Welcome.US to help Afghan refugees