As thousands of people in Afghanistan attempt to flee the country before the United States’ withdrawal on August 31, we look at how the Trump administration made it much harder for Afghans who worked with the U.S. to apply and receive what is known as a special immigrant visa, or SIV. Oliva Troye, a former top aide to Mike Pence who resigned in protest, has placed the blame on Trump’s xenophobic adviser Stephen Miller, saying he peddled “racist hysteria” in White House meetings about bringing Afghan allies to the U.S. “Stephen Miller would say, 'Well, these are terrorist cells in the making if you bring them here,'” says Troye, director of the Republican Accountability Project and former homeland security adviser to Pence. “I know for a fact that the Trump administration was planning this withdrawal for several years,” says Troye. “Why were they not actively prioritizing this population so that we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in today?”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
As thousands of Afghans attempt to flee Afghanistan before the U.S. withdrawal on August 31st, we turn now to look at how the Trump administration made it harder for Afghans who worked with the United States to apply and receive what is known as a SIV, a special immigrant visa. One former top aide to Mike Pence has placed the blame on Trump’s xenophobic adviser Stephen Miller. Olivia Troye recently tweeted, quote, “There were cabinet mtgs about this during the Trump Admin where Stephen Miller would peddle his racist hysteria about Iraq & Afghanistan. He & his enablers across gov’t would undermine anyone who worked on solving the SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] issue by devastating the system at DHS & State,” she said. In recent weeks, Stephen Miller has repeatedly appeared on Fox News to criticize efforts to resettle Afghans in the United States.
STEPHEN MILLER: The Taliban has all of the control of the government now. So the notion that people could just show up at a checkpoint and demand resettlement into the United States, so we could have any idea about their background, their belief system, where they come from, now that the U.S.-backed government has fallen, it’s just an impossibility. … Resettling in America is not about solving a humanitarian crisis; it’s about accomplishing an ideological objective: to change America.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Stephen Miller on Fox.
We’re joined now by Olivia Troye. She worked as a homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, until she resigned in August of last year. She’s now the director of the Republican Accountability Project.
Olivia Troye, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk more about — I mean, you were in the room. So, talk about what the Afghan visa process is. We’re talking about now a law passed by Congress. They have to go through something like 14 steps, is that right?
OLIVIA TROYE: Yes, that’s correct. And to hear Stephen Miller sort of just disregard the fact that these people are vetted so extensively — I mean, the process is cumbersome, and it is challenging, despite the Trump administration’s attempts to really gut the entire thing. But, you know, they go — they have to be sponsored by either the military commander at the time or the person they were working for. They have to get a letter of recommendation from them. And then it’s a series of steps. They go through health checks. They go through vetting. They go through background checks. I mean, this isn’t something that just happens overnight. It is a cumbersome process that lasts at least several months. But in this situation, what we’ve had is that many of these people were in the pipeline for years just waiting to get through the process, and they never saw results.
AMY GOODMAN: So, describe a scene. Describe a meeting that Stephen Miller was in, talking about these Afghan allies. Now, he is continuing to talk about this to this day.
OLIVIA TROYE: Look, Stephen Miller does not hide the fact that he is anti-immigrant, anti-refugee. This is something that he has been consistent about from day one of the Trump administration, when they took office, and, you know, whether it was issuing the travel ban, as it’s referred to, or — and that in that travel ban, it was actually — it called for a full stop of the refugee process, to do security reviews and review vetting.
Well, I sat in those meetings, when we discussed many of these scenarios. And in these meetings, it was brought to the attention, especially before Cabinet meetings and in senior staff meetings at the National Security Council, the importance of protecting these translators, these interpreters, these U.S. allies that have served on the ground with us and who needed to get through the process expeditiously. And Stephen Miller would say, “Well, these are terrorist cells in the making if you bring them here.” He would say, “These are going to be — what is it that you want? You guys want a bunch of little Iraqs throughout the United States? You want a bunch of ’stans everywhere in the country?” And it was so offensive to many senior military commanders and generals, you know, brass, military brass, offensive to intelligence career people like myself.
AMY GOODMAN: So, who spoke up? Can you talk about General Mattis, for example, when he couldn’t attend a meeting?
OLIVIA TROYE: Yeah, so — and he wrote a memo specifically about the P-2 program on Iraqis. And I think this is happening in 2018 when we were discussing the refugee ceiling cap. And Stephen Miller was a big advocate for lowering it.
AMY GOODMAN: P-2 program is similar to SIV, right?
OLIVIA TROYE: Yes, exactly. And this conversation, you know, we were talking about SIV processes. We were talking about the P-2s for Iraqi translators, many of these who had been in the pipeline for years already. And so, General Mattis is not able to attend this Cabinet meeting on the refugee ceiling discussion, and so he writes a memo. And he writes this memo because he wants it to go on record, and he wants it distributed at the meeting because he’s concerned about what is going to happen when people come into the room. What is Pompeo going to do? Will he cave to the likes of Stephen Miller and his ilk?
And he was right to be concerned, because in this discussion Stephen Miller pontificates once again and pushes this narrative of fearmongering about what’s going to happen if we bring these people here. And Mattis pushes back, through his memo, and makes sure that he’s on record that if we do not protect this population, that if we don’t get them through the process, this is a serious matter of national security, because what message are we sending to the world?
AMY GOODMAN: You were a special adviser to Vice President Trump — Vice President Pence. Did you feel you could stand up to Stephen Miller?
OLIVIA TROYE: Yes, but you always had to do it in a very calculated manner, because when you do take a stand, unfortunately, he did have the power to remove people from their positions. He pushed a number of many of my competent colleagues out, State Department, Foreign Service officers, who were serving across the National Security Council, some of them known to be pro-refugee and pro-SIVs and pro-P-2s. And many of these people get pushed out of the National Security Council, and they’re replaced by Stephen Miller allies.
And so, what I did was I worked closely with my colleagues to figure out how we were going to navigate this careful situation. And I — look, I briefed Vice President — former Vice President Pence about the scenario. I told him that I was meeting with numerous organizations who were raising serious concerns about what was happening here, whether it was budget cuts for the refugee resettlement programs for Afghans and Iraqis and other refugees. And they were kind of — they were asking the right question. There were saying, “What is happening here? What’s happening at the State Department?” Well, when I dug into this and I actually go and meet people at the State Department, I find myself faced with one of Stephen Miller’s allies, one of the strongest supporters. And it all sort of comes together for me, and I come back and say, “Well, I don’t know how we’re going to counter what’s happening here across the U.S. government, when we have a group of people that are actively working to undermine the entire system.”
AMY GOODMAN: In a statement to The New York Times, Stephen Miller responded to your accusation, saying, “The sole reason that anyone is stranded in Afghanistan is because Joe Biden stranded them there in the single most imbecilic act of strategic incompetence in human history.” And, of course, President Trump has weighed in, and he’s attacking Biden, calling his responses imbecilic, as well. Your response, Olivia?
OLIVIA TROYE: Well, I think Trump had four years to do something about getting these people out of harm’s way, who were in the system waiting to be processed. And so, I think what you see now is a scenario where President Biden takes office, he comes in, they realize that the program is gutted. They have spoken about this before, where they come in and they realize that the program is definitely in need of resourcing and staffing. And so, this is not something that you can just flip a switch and turn on overnight. It’s a cumbersome process. And if it wasn’t functioning the way it should have — which I know that it wasn’t, because I know this firsthand — it’s going to take some time. And so you end up in a crisis situation now where you are trying to figure out how you’re going to protect thousands of people whose lives are going to be at risk once we withdraw. If that were the case — and, you know, I know for a fact that the Trump administration was planning this withdrawal for several years now — why were they not actively prioritizing this population so that we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in today?
AMY GOODMAN: Olivia Troye, I want to thank you for spending this time with us, former homeland security and counterterrorism adviser to former Vice President Mike Pence, now director of the Republican Accountability Project.
When we come back, we look at how right-wing radio host Larry Elder, who once mentored a young Stephen Miller, could become the next governor of California, if voters back a recall of Gavin Newsom. Back in 30 seconds.