Photo Credit: Senator Ted Cruz / Facebook
By Bethany Blankley [The Center Square contributor] –
At least nine Republican U.S. senators are continuing to pressure the Department of Homeland Security for answers over its vetting process of Afghan evacuees entering the U.S.
Three Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members sent a letter last week to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting information about Afghan evacuees. This week, six additional senators sent a letter to DHS asking for an overdue report they were supposed to have received Nov. 30.
Their letters followed news reports that the State Department didn’t have reliable data on everyone who evacuated Afghanistan and what types of visas they qualified for, and after a convicted rapist on an evacuation flight reached Washington-Dulles Airport. The letters also were sent after assaults and arrests were reported at military bases in New Mexico and Wisconsin where evacuees were being housed, and after several of the senators expressed concerns at a senate committee hearing in September.
Senators Ron Johnson (Wis.), Rick Scott (Fla.), and Josh Hawley (Mo.), sent a letter Dec. 17 to the secretaries following up to a September senate hearing they held on the Biden administration’s controversial withdrawal from Afghanistan. Blinken had testified that “most of [the evacuees] were not” vetted before they were evacuated.
Blinken’s admission contradicts claims made by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. In an August 24 press briefing, Psaki according to media reports said, “we have a stringent vetting process which includes background checks before any individual comes to the United States … we take the vetting of any individual who comes to the United States and comes out incredibly seriously, and it’s an extensive process.”
She added those being evacuated were first brought to the “lily pad countries” of Bahrain, Qatar and Germany, “either because they’ve only proceeded through certain steps of this – of the immigrant visa process, or because their vetting process has not yet been completed.”
Those vetting the evacuees were “conducting screening and security vetting for all SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans before they are allowed into the United States,” she said. “This includes reviews of both biographic and biometric data. And if an individual is not through that vetting process, they’re not coming into the United States.”
She added, “I can absolutely assure you that no one is coming into the United States of America who has not been through a thorough screening and background check process.”
But at the September hearing, Johnson noted that many of those evacuated had no form of identification, “despite Blinken’s assurances that these individuals were vetted before arriving on U.S. soil.”
The senators told the secretaries that they were “still concerned about your agencies’ ability to fully vet these individuals if they do not have any identification documents and cannot prove who they claim to be.”
More than 120,000 individuals were airlifted out of Afghanistan by Aug. 31. The U.S. government reportedly evacuated 80,000 people, of whom 5,500 were Americans and over 73,000 were Afghans or other foreign nationals. Roughly 44,000 of them are currently not living on U.S. military bases but are living in the general U.S. population; less than 29,000 are being housed at bases in the U.S., Politico reported.
“It is beyond unacceptable that several months after President Biden’s disastrous and deadly withdrawal we still do not have a full account of all the Americans who are still trapped in Afghanistan or a full account of the Afghans who were evacuated to the U.S.,” they wrote.
Republican senators Shelley Moore Capito (W.V.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Rob Portman, (Ohio), Jim Risch (Idaho) and Richard Shelby (Ala.) sent a letter to Mayorkas Tuesday asking for DHS to produce a report it was required to have submitted to Congress by Nov. 30.
“Congress mandated this report include the immigration status of Afghan evacuees located here in the United States and at overseas bases of U.S. Armed Forces, including any evacuees flagged as potential security risks or concerns,” the report states. “This information is necessary for Congress to perform its constitutional oversight duties, which include an understanding of the composition of the Afghan evacuee population located in the United States and any potential national security concerns.”
Mayorkas’ failure to meet the statutorily mandated deadline “is unacceptable,” the senators wrote.
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The letters were sent after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, raised concerns in August about Afghans coming to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. And after a female U.S. service member reported an assault by a group of Afghan men at Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Range Complex in New Mexico in mid-September.
Johnson also raised concerns in September after two Afghans housed at Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy were arrested. One was charged with three counts of engaging in sexual acts with a minor; another for allegedly assaulting his wife.
Air Force Gen. Glenn VanHerck, head of Northern Command, told reporters at the time that the crime rates in the evacuee resettlement facilities were much lower than in comparable U.S. populations.
In the first letter, the senators requested the secretaries respond to 10 detailed questions by Dec. 30. In the second, they asked Mayorkas to immediately comply with the statutory deadline and submit the report to Congress.
About the Author: Bethany Blankley is a writer at the Center Square, Patheos/Hedgerow, political analyst and former press secretary at Capitol Hill / NY / WDC. Follow Bethany on Twitter @BethanyBlankley.