Most Afghan evacuees not vetted before entering US, GOP Senate memo says

A GOP Senate memo asserts that nearly all the 82,000 Afghans who were evacuated from Kabul to the United States in August weren’t properly vetted prior to entering the country.

The current administration has not vetted information provided by tens of thousands of Afghans through in-person interviews, choosing instead to rely solely on criminal and terrorist databases to seed out potential threats — or “screenings” —  the congressional memo claims, according to the Washington Examiner. 

The memo — drafted by senate Republicans in October — summarizes interviews with federal officials from the Departments of Homeland Security, Defense, State and Justice who oversaw what they depicted as a reckless screening and vetting process at home and at military bases, the Examiner reported.

Only 700 of 82,000 people admitted into the US possessed Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) as of early October, according to Sen. Rob Portman.
As of October 1, only 700 out of the 82,000 immigrants admitted to the US had Special Immigrant Visas. Rob Portman.
AP

Around 75 percent were Afghan nationals, not green card holders or Afghanistan Special Immigrant visa holders. [SIV]  holders or visa applicants, sources familiar with the memo told The Washington Examiner.

As of early October, only 700 of the 82,000 admitted into the U.S. held SIVs — which grant permanent residency for aiding the U.S. government during its occupation, Republican Rob Portman of Ohio said in a Nov. 4 speech, despite claims from the Biden administration that those airlifted from Kabul were SIV holder and allies.

Over 40 percent of the 82,000 have been deemed “allies” that are eligible to apply for the visa but had not yet applied, officials told The Examiner.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas backed President Biden’s requirement of “security screenings” for all people evacuated to the US.
DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas backed President Biden’s requirement of “security screenings” for all people evacuated to the US.
Rod Lamkey – CNP / MEGA

According to DHS officials, of the 82,000 U.S. arrivals 4,920 were U.S. citizens, 3,280 were lawful permanent residents, and the remaining 73,800,  — or 90 percent — were Afghan nationals. The Examiner stated that DHS had not provided information on how many of the 73.800 visa applicants were either SIV or otherwise ineligible.

In August, Biden had said that all of those being evacuated to the U.S. would undergo “security screenings,” at military bases before they would enter the United States, a statement backed by the State Department and later DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“Planes taking off from Kabul are not flying directly to the United States. They’re landing at U.S. military bases and transit centers around the world,” Biden said on Aug. 22. “At these sites where they are landing, we are conducting thorough scrutiny — security screenings for everyone who is not a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident.”

People evacuated from Kabul, Afghanistan wait to board a bus at Washington Dulles International Airport on Sept. 2, 2021.
The people who have been evacuated to Kabul, Afghanistan are waiting for their bus at Washington Dulles International Airport in September 2021.
AP

According to the memo, the Biden administration ordered the military and federal agencies to streamline the process subject the evacuees to basic “screenings” with the additional more extensive “vetting” protocols established after the September 11 attacks.

Screening is the initial information refugees give to law enforcement. This includes personal statements, documents from government, fingerprints, and other biometrics. Vetting typically comes next, when a government official interviews the individual in order to confirm they are who they’ve claimed to be.

Vetting interviews “were only conducted for evacuees who had derogatory information associated with their biometrics or phone records,” the memo says.

According to the Examiner, the DHS and White House were at odds over its definition of “vetting.” DHS did not provide the paper with its definition.

An aerial view of Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village in New Mexico, the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan were screened.
An aerial view of Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Village in New Mexico, the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan were screened.
AP

“As with any population entering the United States, DHS, in coordination with interagency vetting partners, takes multiple steps to ensure that those seeking entry do not pose a national security or public safety risk,” a DHS spokesman wrote in an email to the outlet. “The rigorous, multi-layered screening and vetting process involves biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from DHS and DOD, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and additional intelligence community partners. This process includes reviewing fingerprints, photos, and biographic data for every single Afghan before they are cleared to travel to the United States.”

According to the memo, “Afghans without any identification or records were approved for travel to the United States as long as their fingerprints or other biometrics were not already in a U.S. Government database and connected to derogatory information (e.g., a known terrorist, terrorist affiliate, or criminal). Federal officials relayed that few Afghans know their birthday, which has resulted in a number of evacuees’ date of birth logged as January 1.”

U.S. officials already know of 10 Afghans who have been allowed entry, but should have been stopped if they’d been properly vetted. Two evacuees were convicted of crimes in September. One 20-year-old man was charged with sexual assaulting a 16 year-old girl.

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