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Opinion: Missouri’s role during the Afghanistan crisis

America’s war in Afghanistan has come to an end. The institutions we’ve helped build were fragile and, as we have witnessed over the span of a single weekend, have rapidly collapsed. While there is a much-needed discussion to be had on the things that went wrong, we must first turn our attention to the things we can do right. For thousands of Afghans, there is no choice but to leave their homeland and start over. Their journey will be difficult and many will be left behind. The fortunate will be resettled in the U.S. where new difficulties await them. I believe Missouri has a role to play in helping those who have sacrificed their livelihoods in helping us. 

State Sen. Steven Roberts

Recent reports indicate as many as 1,000 Afghan refugees will be relocated into the St. Louis Metro with as little as 12 hours’ notice to local organizations to prepare. My response to the 1,000 new residents of the region is: “Welcome.”

Refugees help communities thrive. They bring music, practices, and culture for all to enjoy. Today, St. Louis is home to the largest Bosnian diaspora in the world — and the city is better because of it.

Unfortunately, there are those who have played political games with the lives of at-risk populations. They’ve stoked fear in the hearts of their voters and echoed xenophobic tropes despite the research organizations who advise that they are wrong. 

However, this week, we’ve seen a new tune — concern for the Afghan people. The world has finally seen what it looks like to be a refugee. To be a refugee means you imminently fear for your life. To be a refugee means you may cling to the side of a plane in fear of the alternative. 

I’m choosing to believe my colleagues have had a change of heart and that they’re not feigning care to score political points against the sitting president. As such, I invite them to join me in creating a welcoming place for all who seek it.

This crisis has opened my eyes to a cause we should advance this coming legislative session — let’s work with our cities, counties, and non-governmental organizations to make Missouri not just “open for business” but “open for everyone.” I do not have all the answers to an issue as nuanced and broad as immigration, but it’s my duty as a legislator to reach out to stakeholders in my community that service and aid refugee and immigrant populations. In this session, I will take that information and work to make improvements at the statewide level; whether it’s funding for resources, fewer legislative restrictions, or greater incentives to create a new life here instead of somewhere else, I will work to get it done.

Missouri was once a beacon to immigrants and refugees from around the world. It’s what made St. Louis one of the world’s most vibrant cities, and opportunities for newcomers can still thrive here if we support it. It’s already recently rebuilt much of the south side of the city of St. Louis and its neighboring county. Let’s do that again and make this state a haven for those fleeing not just oppression in Afghanistan, but for all huddled masses yearning to breathe free.