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caption: U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, enters a plane evacuating people, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.
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U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, enters a plane evacuating people, at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021.
Credit: Capt. William Urban/U.S. Navy via AP

Washington leaders urge action to welcome Afghan refugees

Elected leaders in Washington state are responding to the news from Afghanistan as the U.S. military exits the country and thousands strive to leave, many as refugees.

House Republican leader JT Wilcox wrote in a tweet that he's concerned about the many Afghans who helped the United States, and who are now at grave risk for doing so, as the Taliban takes control of the country.

He says he wants Washington to be able to welcome Afghan refugees quickly.

"Sometimes these things can be controversial," Wilcox told KUOW partner station KNKX. "I don't want it to be controversial in Washington. So I want it to be an easy, quick choice so they can expedite the passage of these people who tried to help us."

RELATED: Seattle-area Afghan American reacts to ‘stolen hope’

Wilcox, along with Senate Republican Leader John Braun, have sent a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington's representatives in Congress, urging leaders to assess how the state can help Afghan refugees and take "bold action." The letter cites Washington's history of taking in refugees after the fall of Saigon.

Democratic House Speaker Laurie Jinkins also invoked the work done in the 1970s under then-Governor Dan Evans to welcome refugees from Vietnam.

Jinkins says that although the federal government determines refugee status, Washington can play a role in continuing to provide services to people who come to the state.

"We will continue to be an incredibly welcoming state for immigrants and refugees," Jinkins said. "We understand here in Washington that not very many of us have to back generations before our families were immigrants. We understand that immigrants build this state and this nation. We want to welcome immigrants from every part of the world."

Gov. Inslee also tweeted about the issue. He directed veterans who are experiencing anxiety amid the developments in Afghanistan to counseling services with Veteran's Affairs.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal who represents the Seattle area in Congress, said that leaving Afghanistan was the right decision and called for swift action to accept refugees without "bureaucratic delay."

Refugees coming to Washington state

Up to 22,000 refugees from Afghanistan are expected to arrive in the U.S., and some are slated to be sent to the Seattle-Tacoma area.

The Pierce County Council unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday night, asking local residents to welcome Afghan refugees and help the organizations that will be assisting them once they arrive. The Council is asking the public to specifically reach out to Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Services.

The Tacoma News Tribune reports that Lutheran Community Services Northwest helped settle 24 Afghans with special immigrant visas in Washington state last week.