A number of Republican senators are pressing the Biden administration for answers following reports that hundreds of evacuees from Afghanistan are simply walking off U.S. military bases without finishing resettlement processes.
Led by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a group of 16 GOP senators has sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in which they claim that the security procedures being used to vet the refugees “remain unclear and incomplete, and, unless changed, are insufficient to preserve the safety of the American homeland.”
An untold number of Afghan evacuees were granted temporary status of “humanitarian parole” when they were hastily flown out of their country in late August and taken to various U.S. military bases around the country. They were then tasked with going through a resettlement process in order to fully transition into the United States.
The letter from the GOP senators comes amid a report by Reuters claiming that at least 700 Afghan refugees have walked off or otherwise left military bases without first obtaining resettlement services.
However, “leaving early could cost other Afghan evacuees critical benefits – like expedited work permits – and create a slew of legal problems down the road, given the complexities of the U.S. immigration system,” Reuters added.
The newswire went on to quote a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official, who called the situation “a giant an of worms.”
Immigration experts told Reuters that those refugees who left the bases have not broken any U.S. laws and that military officials do not have the authority to detain otherwise law-abiding Afghans. Still, the GOP senators are concerned that some may slip through cracks in the vetting process and as such are asking Biden administration officials to stop relocation refugees temporarily unless they are holding Special Immigrant Visas, in which case they have already been vetted.
In addition, the senators want Biden administration officials to halt the resettlement of Afghans that have been paroled into the U.S. until the Defense Department’s inspector general can thoroughly review the current vetting processes and ensure that members of Congress are summarily briefed.
“We are concerned the hastily developed process creates gaps in security and criminal vetting and risks our nation’s security,” the letter says. “The vetting process must ensure the security, medical and criminal screening of each Afghan seeking admittance into the United States.”
All Afghan evacuees taken to U.S. military bases have undergone a screening process before being allowed into the country, a DHS official told Fox News.
“Afghan guests who receive required vaccinations, complete their medical screening, and await their relocation arrangements at safe havens are eligible for various forms of assistance, which is why an overwhelming majority of Afghans remain at safe havens across the country,” the spokesperson noted. “If they choose to leave the military base, they are responsible for completing the medical requirements on their own, may forfeit other benefits, and could be in violation of their parole.
“Before arriving at safe havens, these individuals underwent a multi-layer screening and vetting process involving biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, as well as, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and additional Intelligence Community (IC) partners before they were permitted entry into the United States,” said the spokesperson.
“Furthermore, those with pending immigration cases are required to maintain contact with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to keep their pending case in good status.”
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