WASHINGTON – A widespread coalition of political, religious, and business leaders, joined by numerous large companies and advocacy organizations, on Tuesday launched an effort to help Afghan evacuees resettle in the United States.

The new group, called Welcome.US, seeks to engage the American public in welcoming Afghan refugees in a multifaceted effort, Cecelia Muñoz, the initiative’s co-founder, said at a virtual press conference. The former director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama, she is a senior adviser to New America, a public policy group.

The initiative will try to make it easier for Americans to donate to frontline organizations and sponsor Afghan families arriving in the United States.

“Welcome.US is being launched in response to this outpouring from the American people to channel and fan its flames, building on the extraordinary work so many tireless frontline organizations have been leading,” co-founder John Bridgeland said. He was director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under President George W. Bush. He is president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, a public policy firm.

Afghan-American organizations, faith-based groups, resettlement agencies, businesses, veterans, nonprofits, universities, and political leaders have joined the initiative.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also expressed his support for Welcome.US, urging Marylanders to help Afghan evacuees resettling in this country through donating money to frontline organizations, hosting families, or providing essential services.

“When America began its withdrawal from Afghanistan, I made it clear that Maryland was ready and willing to welcome these Afghan allies,” Hogan said at the press conference.

Hogan also spoke of America’s history of compassion and commitment to helping others.

“Today, we’re calling on that spirit of compassion yet again,” Hogan said. “The thousands of Afghan allies, who desperately need our help now, have been our strong allies for the past two decades.”

Welcome.US’s co-chairs include Obama, Bush, and former President Bill Clinton, as well as former first ladies Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, and Hillary Clinton.

“Many of the refugees fleeing Afghanistan stood by America and risked everything for a chance at a better life,” Obama tweeted. “With the launch of Welcome.US, we can support our new Afghan neighbors and reaffirm our common humanity. I hope you’ll join us.”

Welcome.US’s launch comes during a pivotal moment in Afghan-American relations. The withdrawal of American troops and the Taliban’s control in Afghanistan left hundreds of thousands of Afghan allies struggling to escape and find new places to call home.

The initiative also begins shortly after the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

“But this call to action transcends the toxic politics of the moment, and I ask all Marylanders – and all Americans – to help us prove once again why this nation truly is ‘the last best hope of earth,’” Hogan said.

Potential congressional legislation aimed at helping Afghan evacuees could affect the impact of Welcome.US.

“Congress has some serious work to do to make this success possible,” said Nazanin Ash, the International Rescue Committee’s vice president of global policy and advocacy.

Ash pointed to the Biden administration’s request for funding and authority on extending refugee benefits to Afghan evacuees and providing them a path to permanent legal residency in the United States.

“Without this assistance, Afghan evacuees will not be able to access healthcare, language services or secure other public and private benefits that will help them find their footing and get a leg up in their new country,” Ash said.

This article was originally published on CNSMaryland.org on Tuesday, September 14, 2021.

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