WASHINGTON — As the United States potentially abandons tens of thousands of Afghans who helped two decades of military and diplomatic efforts there to the mercies of the Taliban, a single person may deserve more credit than any other: top Trump White House aide and immigration foe Stephen Miller.
Miller, who worked for all four years as former President Donald Trump’s immigration adviser pushing restrictive policies across the board, was instrumental in slowing down the processing of Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) for Afghan interpreters, embassy staff and others who are now top targets for Taliban assassination, according to both refugee advocates and those who have worked with him.
“The seeds of the insanity that we’re seeing right now were planted in Stephen Miller‘s brain,” said Matt Zeller, a former Army officer who served in Afghanistan and co-founded the group No One Left Behind, adding that Miller is as much to blame for the deaths of interpreters and others as the Taliban themselves. “He’s complicit in their murders ... He’s brilliant at how evil he is.”
Olivia Troye, who worked in the White House for former Vice President Mike Pence, said Miller had a knack for using the bureaucracy to effect his agenda.
“He does it in a very crafty way. You can trace the steps of everything he did along the way,” she said, describing how Miller was even able to use the COVID-19 pandemic to slow down the of processing of SIV applications. “This was just another opportunity to push his anti-immigration agenda.”
Miller, who now helps run the pro-Trump group America First Legal, did not respond to HuffPost queries.
In recent days, though, he has pushed the ideas both that Afghans brought here might well be terrorists and that it is too expensive to resettle them, as well as the broader theme that they would “change America.”
“It’s extraordinarily expensive to resettle a refugee in the United States. They get free health care. They get free education. They get free housing. They get free food. They get cash welfare,” he said on Fox News last week. “If the United States takes the policy that every person suffering under Sharia law has a right to live in the United States of America, we’re going to have to make the room for half a billion people.”
A day later, he warned on Twitter that permitting these Afghans into the country now would result in even more Afghans coming later: “Keep in mind refugees are on fast-track to citizenship, so the initial resettlement will spark a huge wave of follow-on chain migration.”
And on Monday, he claimed that most of the Afghans arriving do not deserve the opportunity. “The vast majority of those being evacuated had no role in the U.S. war effort,” he wrote. “As I warned from the outset, Biden is using his disastrous Afghanistan exit — and a gullible media — as the pretext for large-scale resettlement of unvetted Afghan refugees throughout the U.S.”
Miller, now 36, has had a reputation as a strident anti-immigration nativist for more than a decade. Known for sending angry all-caps emails to journalists warning of the perils posed by immigrants as a staffer to then-Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Miller’s views began dramatically affecting U.S. government policy in 2015, after Republicans retook control of the Senate and his boss became chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
One such change, implemented through the National Defense Authorization Act for the 2016 budget year, required Afghan applicants to have worked for two years helping the United States or allied forces, rather than just one. Another, said Zeller, made a letter from the applicant’s employer attesting to job performance a requirement to win approval from the State Department’s chief of mission in Kabul.
Miller became a top adviser to candidate Trump in 2016, then moved to the White House when Trump took office in 2017. With Trump’s encouragement and support, he began implementing anti-immigration policies across the executive agencies, including a slowdown of the SIV program.
A State Department Inspector General’s report in June 2020, for example, found that the Afghan visa program suffered from processing times on average more than twice the nine months that Congress had demanded back in 2013. It blamed, in part, the failure of the Trump administration to appoint a senior coordinating official for the SIVs, which Congress had also mandated, as well as the bureaucratic hurdle of requiring the “human resources” employer letter.
“As a result, the stage to determine Chief of Mission approval is a bottleneck in the Afghan SIV program,” the report stated. “As of December 29, 2019, 8,444 of 18,695 applicants (45 percent) were waiting for a Chief of Mission decision.”
Spencer Sullivan, a former Army cavalry officer who spent a year in Afghanistan, said often the employer is not the U.S. government, but a contractor that essentially serves as a temporary employment firm. He said these have been notoriously slow to respond to letter requests. Some left Afghanistan years ago, while others simply went out of business. He added that an Afghan interpreter he recommended for an SIV was unable to get a letter despite four separate tries and having been wounded in an IED explosion. “He took the human smuggling route west,” Sullivan said, and is now seeking asylum in Germany.
Sullivan said he cannot understand the purpose of requiring such a letter in the first place, if a military service member’s recommendation exists.
“My guess is that is in line with Stephen Miller’s policy of keeping brown people out of the country,” he said.
He added that many who worked for the U.S., such as fuel delivery drivers, have no reasonable expectation of even knowing an American service member to write a recommendation letter, which is why so many of them are being systematically murdered.
“Fuel truck drivers get executed all the time,” Sullivan said. “Regardless of what our standards are, the Taliban’s standards are much lower. If you worked for NATO for one day, they will kill you.”
Troye, who left the White House last year to speak out against Trump because of his mismanagement of the pandemic, said Miller never tried to hide his racism or xenophobia in the West Wing. “It would be shocking that somebody would speak this way in a Cabinet-level meeting in the United States,” she said, adding that Miller would claim: “‘If we allow all these people to come in, we will have terrorist cells all over the country.’”
She said a responsible White House, after cutting a deal essentially turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban as Trump did in February 2020, would have stepped up efforts to get Afghan allies out of the country in the remaining year before the American withdrawal. Instead, Trump and Miller did nothing. “There was no concerted effort at all,” she said.