Accepting Afghan refugees may not be easy but it should be done, the Editorial Board writes

Utah has a history of being welcoming of those who need to flee their homes.

(Kiana Hayeri | The New York Times) People wait at a checkpoint to board one of the last commercial flights leaving Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021. Many of those who worked alongside U.S. troops have waited years for visas to come to the United States but the speedy withdrawal of forces left most of them behind.

While America’s political class bickers and argues about who lost Afghanistan — and whether it was ever really ours to lose in the first place — people who live in places such as Utah should get busy doing what they can to absorb the human collateral damage.

Our 20-year attempt at nation building in the Graveyard of Empires has apparently come to nothing. No matter whose fault that is — and there is plenty of blame to go around — there are thousands of people who need to leave that sad nation, in a big hurry, many of them with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

And this is the origin story of some of the most successful and driven Americans throughout our history. We must make room.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is one of more than a dozen state chief executives who have raised their hands, telling the federal officials who are supposed to be arranging this diaspora that we would be happy to make room for our share.

As has been the case with previous waves of refugees, Utah leaders like to harken back to our state’s founding as a haven for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Utah was settled by refugees fleeing religious persecution,” Cox wrote in a letter to President Joe Biden. “We understand the pain caused by coerced migration and appreciate the contributions of refugees in our communities.”

Cox, along with other governors of both parties, was right to ignore the opportunity to score political points by bashing the administration, or anyone else, for the almost immediate collapse of the Afghan military and civilian government in the face of the Taliban onslaught.

Members of Congress can and should be looking into the decisions made by the administration as it decided to finally keep the promise made by this president, and the two presidents before him, to extricate American forces from the ongoing civil war in Afghanistan. And to do so, from all appearances, in a particularly clumsy and destructive way.

In the real world, it is time for America to do what it does best. Provide a sanctuary.

Not that our past experiences have always gone smoothly. Every wave of immigration has engendered suspicion and resentment among a few of those who were already here, from the Irish and the Polish to the Hispanics to the Vietnamese.

In Utah, particularly, we are already faced with the symptoms of having a growing supply of people. Homelessness. Soaring prices for housing, both rentals and for sale. Overcrowded schools, traffic snarls and horrific air quality.

But we also have a track record of seeing refugees as the potential-laden assets that they are, accommodating them into what is still seen as a very white, conservative culture. We have expressed this in such ways as the immigrant-welcoming Utah Compact of 2010, signed by government, law enforcement, academic and business leaders, and through the efforts of state and local, government and private, efforts and organizations.

The latest numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, meanwhile, show that Utah’s minority population is steadily growing, to the point that it makes up just short of a quarter of all Utahns and 32.4% of the population of Salt Lake County.

Surely an effort such as this is going to take time and money from various governmental jurisdictions and from charitable organizations. And we may find that many of those we take in will soon find their way to other places with larger Afghan communities.

It may not be the fault of anyone who now lives in Utah that federal officials of both parties and many departments and agencies failed to be straight with us about what was going on in Afghanistan and what we could reasonably expect as a result.

But our nation as whole shares the responsibility for this humanitarian disaster, and we should do our part to care for its victims.