Afghan Evacuees Placed in U.S. States: Who's In Charge?

By Nayla Rush on September 23, 2021

A map of the upcoming placement of 37,000 Afghan nationals in 46 U.S. states was prepared by Axios news on September 16.

These nationals were among the group of some 100,000 “Afghans at risk” who were evacuated from Afghanistan by the U.S. government under the “Operation Allies Refuge” (July-August 2021). Around 60,000 have arrived on U.S. soil and the rest are still being processed at U.S. bases abroad. Canada has agreed to resettle 5,000; other countries might follow suit, but the remainder will likely end up in American cities.

The top-10 receiving states of the 37,000 Afghans (as per Axios map) are California (5,255), Texas (4,481), Oklahoma (1,800), Washington (1,679), Arizona (1,610), Maryland (1,348), Michigan (1,280), Missouri (1,200), North Carolina (1,169), and Virginia (1,166).

Hawaii, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming (along with Washington, D.C.) will not be housing any of these 37,000 evacuees, according to the news outlet.

See the list at the end of this post for a detailed count.

To coordinate what the White House is calling “Operation Allies Welcome” and “temporarily lead Afghan resettlement in the U.S.”, President Biden appointed former Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D).

Markell said in a statement:

Welcoming these families is in the best traditions of our country, and we are grateful to see the outpouring of support from people across this country who are ready to help resettle vulnerable Afghans and welcome them to their new homes.

Markell is the former chairman of the National Governors Association; he also served as a senior vice president of Comcast and Nextel Communications and is currently running his own consulting firm. The White House believes that Markell's experience in both the public and private sector will help him in this new endeavor.

Markell was also nominated by President Biden this June to serve as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The confirmation hearing has not yet been set.

Markell reportedly “made calls to state and local leaders notifying them on the number of Afghans to expect.”

As I explained in a previous post, most Afghan evacuees entering the United Stated are being paroled in without a visa. “Immigration Parole” is an “official permission to enter and remain in the United States typically for “no longer than one year”, but DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas requested that a two-year parole be granted to Afghan evacuees.

Parolees have limited access to benefits; and, unlike refugees, they are not eligible for resettlement assistance or other federal benefits. That could change, however, if Congress passes the short-term “continuing resolution” (CR) the Biden administration is pushing forward.

While most of the Afghan evacuees are not being admitted here under the official refugee resettlement program, they are being assisted by the same resettlement agencies (and local affiliates) that are entrusted with the resettlement of refugees into American communities.

Nine religious or community-based organizations have contracts with the Department of State to resettle refugees inside the United States. These agencies maintain nationwide networks of local affiliates to provide services to refugees (and other categories of migrants such as parolees, Central American minors, etc.), including placement, support with housing, community orientation, etc.

It is resettlement agency representatives (not state and local officials, as I explained in a post last year) who determine where refugees (and in this case Afghan parolees) are initially placed in the United States:

Representatives from the resettlement agencies meet frequently. … [T]hey determine which resettlement agency will sponsor and where each refugee will be initially resettled in the United States.

[I]nitial resettlement services are provided to newly arriving refugees by a local affiliate of one of the participating resettlement agencies. Thus, as a general matter, refugees are not resettled in states that do not have any local affiliates or in parts of states that do not have local affiliates within an allowable distance. [Emphasis added.]

According to a Brookings post, “U.S. resettlement agencies have been warned to expect arrivals of 75,000 Afghans, almost all under humanitarian parole in the next few weeks.”

So, if one is looking at the Axios map and wondering why more Afghans are being placed in one state than another, the answer is simple: Resettlement agencies and their local affiliates are orchestrating these moves.

A U.S. State Department Refugee Processing Center map and directory of the resettlement agencies’ local affiliates shed some light on the distribution of Afghan evacuees in U.S. states.

Markell might have called state and local leaders “notifying them on the number of Afghans to expect” (emphasis added); but the truth is, this was nothing but a courtesy call. Afghans will be placed in those localities whether leaders agree to it or not.

In fact, state and local governments don't have a say when it comes to the placement of refugees (or parolees, Central American minors, etc.) in their communities. President Trump tried to reverse this matter and allow state and local governments to opt out of the refugee resettlement program altogether since refugees and others are entitled to certain taxpayer programs and may present special needs some localities cannot sustain or provide. But his order was blocked by a Maryland judge and later revoked altogether by President Biden.

At the moment, a heads-up is the best state and local officials can hope for.

Afghan Settlement
by State

Alabama   10
Alaska   100
Arkansas   98
Arizona   1,610
California   5,255
Colorado   865
Connecticut   310
Delaware   30
Florida   1,030
Georgia   1,069
Idaho   420
Illinois   860
Indiana   490
Iowa   695
Kansas   490
Kentucky   850
Louisiana   59
Maine   100
Maryland   1,348
Massachusetts   900
Michigan   1,280
Minnesota   275
Mississippi   10
Missouri   1,200
Montana   75
Nebraska   775
Nevada   150
New Hampshire   100
New Jersey   535
New Mexico   299
New York   1,143
North Carolina   1,169
North Dakota   49
Ohio   855
Oklahoma   1,800
Oregon   180
Pennsylvania   995
Rhode Island   150
South Carolina   175
Tennessee   415
Texas   4,481
Utah   765
Vermont   100
Virginia   1,166
Washington   1,679
Wisconsin   399
Total   36,809

Source: Axios map.