Thoughts on Afghan Refugee Resettlement, YIMBYism, and Enclavism

The US and it’s allies’ evacuation of Afghanistan echoes the fall of Saigon with masses of Afghan citizens flooding the airport, with images of people desperately clinging on to an airplane as it takes off. Those rushing the airport include many Afghans without paperwork with slim hopes of escaping along with the many who were granted special visas. Many of those granted visas are still stranded along with thousands of Americans but the US military plans to secure the airport for Afghans and foreigners to leave. While much of the handling of the withdrawal process and planned evacuation was incompetent, President Biden made the right decision to leave, even if he has a track record of supporting nation building in Afghanistan. Interestingly much of the Deep State liberal media has parted ways with Biden over the withdrawal as Glenn Greenwald has pointed out.

As far as predicting the future of Afghanistan, there is speculation of catastrophic events such as a civil war or genocide while there have also been reports of Taliban promising to grant an amnesty to all Afghans who worked with foreign governments. A big reason America failed was that it didn’t respect  Afghanistan’s decentralized semi-autonomous  tribal networks. The US attempted to create a centralized government based upon liberal principles to unite these tribes and enclaves and failed.

In the aftermath of this failed nation building endeavor, Afghanistan is seeing one of the worst refugee crises in modern history with many Afghans en route to Europe, which could see a repeat of the 2015 refugee crisis, as well as into neighboring countries in Central and South Asia. Biden has agreed to grant a certain number of specialized visas to those who have assisted the US and Western NGOs such as interpreters and their families. The Pentagon plans to admit up to 20,000 to 22,000 of Special Immigrant Visa applicants, a separate program from refugee intake, this year. Many politicians such as AOC are calling upon Biden to welcome far more beyond these visa holders, and Biden has pulled $500 Million from emergency funds to resettle and house Afghan Refugees, many of whom are being transported to third party countries to be screened and processed.

While the number of Afghans in the US will likely grow due to family reunification, the number currently admitted is fairly modest but enough to garner opposition from the immigration restrictionist right, including 16 GOP representatives who voted against the special Afghan visas. Many of these concerns are based upon the aftermath of Europe’s migrant crisis but it is silly for the American right to get outraged considering that the number admitted are a small fraction of overall immigrants admitted, a drop in the bucket compared to the migrant crisis at the Southern Border. While I never supported the war, it is inhumane to turn down translators and others who assisted the US and should be viewed as a separate issue than refugee intake: reciprocity rather than just humanitarianism.

The concerns about Afghan migration into Europe are primarily due to the massive numbers and disproportionate numbers of young men who were not able to be vetted. Europe will have to be extremely cautious about avoiding the mistakes of the 2015 crisis but due to geography and better vetting of immigrants, that scenario is less applicable to the United States. America’s Afghan community tends to include the high skilled and educated mostly coming over in the form of families rather than unattached single men. Screening is necessary and gender quotas favoring young women should be taken into account as well.

The US should also look into granting refugee status to minorities including the Nuristanis, an ancient Indo-European group concentrated in the Nuristan Province. The degree that the right’s opposition to refugees being primarily motivated by racism is debatable but most American conservatives are totally ignorant about Afghans, including many from the majority Pashtun population, that are of European appearance.

Ben Ritz, The director of the Progressive Policy Institute’s Center for Funding America’s Future, tweeted in support for importing Afghan refugees: “A modest proposal: Utah is a red state with plenty of open federal land, unique sympathies towards refugees, and a compassionate/pragmatic governor. Let's just build a new city there and populate it with 100,000 Afghan refugees who supported our military over the past 20 years. Best-case scenario: we 1) save our allies, 2) build a YIMBY oasis out west, and 3) turn Utah purple/blue with immigrants who love Joe Biden. Worst-case scenario: 1+2, except the Afghan refugees are still pretty religious and Utah continues to be a quirky compassionate red state.”

While Ritz is calling for using immigration to change the demographics of a red state in order to shift the electorate blue, he is unwittingly endorsing a version of what I called for in California’s Future of Pan-Enclavism and from my article on global crisis and immigration policy, where I stated that enclaves will have to play a bigger role in accommodating immigrants in the future. Endorsing a version of pan-enclavism is a sign that liberals are moving away from the mass assimilation model, a case that was made for immigration in the past. Ritz’s vision empowers the state but also paves the way for enclavism, homogenous semi-autonomous communities that are part of the broader multi-cultural patchwork. It is the idea that communities should serve a specific group of people rather than part of mass society.

On a similar note Aaron M. Renn, of the Manhattan Institute and contributing editor to the urbanist City Journal, Tweeted that “The pending inflow of Afghan refugees is a great opportunity to break up America's biggest NIMBY cartels using a variation of “the Heartland Proposal’s, of Economic Innovation Group’s geography specific visas.” Renn adds that “Rather than a Heartland visa, instead give refugees visas for a) affluent suburbs in b) high income regions with a c) de facto NIMBY housing policy and d) ideally transit access. Example communities are: Palo Alto, Cupertino, Berkeley, Wilmette, Brookline, Scarsdale,” and that “The federal govt should then use its eminent domain power and ability to ignore local zoning to acquire land and construct high density, mixed use housing focused on transit accessible areas. 1/3 of the units would be allocated to refugees, 1/3 as other affordable units for locals, and 1/3 for market rate. Enough housing should be constructed for all the refugees admitted. My differences: targets refugees, different eligible communities, no local opt-out (since the goal is to break up NIMBYism). The main thing is just the idea of a geography specific visa.”

Aaron M. Renn makes an interesting point about targeting the wealthiest NIMBY cities for refugee resettlement, and if we are going to import refugees it makes more sense that elites should help accommodate them rather than rural communities in the heartland that have already sacrificed with their blood. Like Renn, I support a version of geographically specific visas but one that requires the permission of local governments and their citizens. Refugee resettlement policy often lacks the consent of the locals and there has been complaints from the right that the policy is used to change the demographics for political ends by placing a group in an area that they don’t have a strong connection to.

Both Aaron M. Renn and Ben Ritz are calling for a fusion of pro-density YIMBY policies with a pro-refugee and pro-immigration stance to create new enclaves from scratch. While Renn is proposing a more standard leftwing policy of using state mandates to diversify communities, Ritz actually parts ways with the traditional liberal narrative in that he endorses building cities specifically for one nationality of people, a top down implementation of Pan-Enclavism. My vision also calls for building new enclaves from scratch but is pro-freedom of association and for empowering communities, both immigrant and native.

We need to emphasize the positive elements of diversity rather than using immigrants as pawns in a partisan cold civil war and California is the one place that understands that. California is taking the lead, going beyond federal requirements for resettling Afghans. Governor Gavin Newsom is welcoming Afghan Refugees to California, saying that his state is “a state of refuge” and that he is working with nonprofits to ensure the latest influx are “welcome and celebrated,” noting that California already houses a “disproportionate” number of Afghan refugees.”

California has one of the nation’s largest concentrations of Afghan Americans with communities in Fremont in the Bay Area and another community in the Sacramento metro, where many will be resettled. With these plans to resettle Afghan refugees in California, the Jewish Family and Community Services East Bay is helping to resettle Afghans in the Bay Area and their counter-part, the Jewish Family Service of San Diego (JFS) reports “it is preparing for an increase of refugees from Afghanistan to be resettled in the San Diego area.”

If California is looking for where to resettle Afghans, there is a direct solution that is radically YIMBY and upholds the enclavist ideal of resettling immigrants where they have connections. Little Kabul in the East Bay City of Fremont is one of the most significant Afghan diaspora enclaves in the west and Fremont alone has many massive parking lots in its downtown, around its BART station, and in the neighboring cities of Newark around its mall, and in Hayward.

I propose a series of dense archology inspired developments on these parking lots, that alone could accommodate the roughly 20 thousand special visa holders that were admitted. These developments could borrow upon Afghan inspired architectural styles: a sort of archeo-futurism with the potential to create the next great urban center for the Bay Area that could become a renowned tourist destination, bringing in revenue for the local economy.

California is a leader in welcoming immigrants and a trend setter for pan-enclavism. While Afghanistan is our current priority, this enclavist model can be used as a guideline for accommodating other immigrant groups. Another proposal came from conservative columnist Alex Muresianu, a federal analyst at the Tax Foundation, proposing that Venezuelan refugees could save the California GOP. While Venezuelans don’t have major enclave in California and most are headed to Texas and Florida, this column encapsulates a sort of conservative version of multi-culturalism.

Other groups include those fleeing Hong Kong who also have strong ties to California. Biden recently granted temporary legal status to Hong Kong’s citizens living in the US, and as past trends show many will become permanent residents contributing to existing communities of Hong Americans in California. If California is to welcome Hong Kongers there are tremendous urbanist opportunities as Hong Kong is one the most dense and dynamic urban centers in the world.

Utilizing urban renewal projects to accommodate new immigrants, I propose using Dodger Stadium’s massive parking lots, waving all zoning restrictions, and collaborating with Hong Kong businessmen, to create a development that could accommodate up to 100 thousand residents right next to Downtown LA. This new LA neighborhood would have access to mass transit, and could become the densest, most pedestrian friendly, and dynamic urban community in the Western United States. It would be in geographic proximity to existing Chinese American communities in Downtown LA’s Chinatown and in the San Gabriel Valley, and bring in massive amounts of revenue into LA’s economy without the concerns about displacement of locals: an issue with anti-gentrification activists on the left and immigration restrictionists on the right. I’d also borrow from Aaron M. Renn and propose that the many units be divided up between refugees, affordable housing, and market rate units.

There is a reality that California is in a housing crisis and Tucker Carlson recently blamed immigration and refugees for the housing crisis. From a very different end of the political spectrum, Bay Area YIMBY Armand Domalewski Tweeted that, “SF Bay Area be like “refugees are welcome!!! if they can qualify for a $1.3M mortgage and 20% minimum downpayment”

California has a history of welcoming immigrants yet has failed to accommodate for the growth of  new citizens. It is a restrictionist mentality coupled with the desire to virtue signal for diversity and inclusion, a desire to bring new citizens without wanting new neighbors and an overall laissez-faire mentality not planning for the future. States have some autonomy as far as welcoming immigrants, and Californians stand out as celebrating diversity-- even if it just means some liberals getting excited about trying out the new Afghan restaurant nearby. Afghans will become a piece of California’s multi-cultural mosaic and help accelerate the trend of enclavism.