An Iraqi man admitted to immigration fraud last week, saying he cheated America’s refugee system by lying about his past as a member of an Iranian-funded Shiite militia in order to win asylum in the U.S.
Chasib Hafedh Saadoon Al Fawadi entered the U.S. in 2016, when then-President Obama was pushing to resettle tens of thousands of refugees from the Middle East amid accusations that the system wasn’t able to properly vet them.
As the U.S. opens its arms to tens of thousands of Afghans, Al Fawadi’s case raises questions anew about the ability of federal authorities to vet applications and weed out dangerous or otherwise undeserving migrants.
Al Fawadi won refugee status for himself and his family by claiming he’d been persecuted by Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq for refusing to help them kidnap Sunni Muslims.
In fact, he has since admitted in court, he actually joined up with the militia, which American authorities say is funded by Iran and is known for its violent attacks on U.S. troops and for kidnapping Iraqis and Westerners alike.
“Al Fawadi lied to U.S. authorities to conceal his membership in, and support of, an Iranian-backed militia that has carried out attacks in Iraq and Syria,” Antoinette “Toni” Bacon, the acting U.S. attorney for northern New York, said when the charges were first brought last year.
Al Fawadi entered a guilty plea in the federal fraud case last week. He still faces first-degree rape charges in New York.
U.S. authorities have long struggled with vetting of migrants fleeing countries afflicted by terrorism and sectionalist violence.
Mr. Obama in 2015 and 2016 vowed to bring in tens of thousands of Syrians and Iraqis as refugees while those countries were riven by civil war and battles against the Islamic State. At the time, top security officials warned that it would be tough to fully vet those migrants, given the conditions in-country and the difficulty in verifying histories.
Former President Donald Trump won office promising “extreme vetting” for those countries, virtually shutting down the pipeline of people.
President Biden has moved to reopen the spigots, and while he’s struggled to get the refugee program fully up and running, the tens of thousands of Afghans are serving as an early test for his administration.
While billed as refugees who helped the U.S. war effort, most of the more than 60,000 people already airlifted to the U.S. are in fact not able to apply for refugee status, and few have been approved for the special visa available for helping American troops.
They have instead been admitted under Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’ “parole” authority. He insists they are being vetted overseas by national security and law enforcement personnel. But the department has been shy about revealing exactly what those checks involve.
The Washington Times has revealed that one convicted rapist and another convicted aggravated burglar, both previously deported, managed to get back to the U.S. on Afghan evacuation flights.
Meanwhile, investigators are probing reports of men assaulting a female soldier at one Afghan holding center in New Mexico, and prosecutors have charged two men with sex crimes at another center in Wisconsin.
One of those men stands accused of beating his wife.
Al Fawadi, the Iraqi refugee, faces his own charges of raping and choking his wife, according to an indictment from Onondaga County, New York.
She also filed for divorce and won a decree last October.
According to court documents he applied for refugee status for himself and his family while in Turkey in 2015. They were approved and resettled a year later, among 9,880 Iraqis who were admitted to the U.S. in 2016.
In the just-ended fiscal year 2021, only about 500 Iraqi refugees were admitted, with most coming after Mr. Biden took office and vowed to increase refugees.
Among Al Fawadi’s lies was that he’d never been outside of Iraq and Turkey, when he’d actually also been in Iran, Syria and Jordan. He also denied having been part of any paramilitary unit, but he’d trained and served with Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq.
Once approved as a refugee, he made his way to New York, and in 2017, after waiting the required year, he applied for a green card.
As part of the process, he sat for two interviews with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services two years later, in 2019.
At the second of those, he did admit he’d worked as a police officer but had concealed that fact before, figuring the U.S. “will not accept [me] to come to the United States” if authorities had known. He continued to hide his militia ties.
The court documents don’t say how the initial vetting in the Obama administration failed to flag Al Fawadi, nor how officials managed to figure out his scam.
In a handwritten letter to the federal judge over the summer, Al Fawadi said he was desperate not to be deported.
“I understand that I have made mistakes since being here in America, and that accepting responsibility is greatly needed in order to move forward in the right direction,” he wrote.
The State Department earlier this year halted a program for Iraqi migrants after discovering a massive plot to steal secret case files refugee applications, then use that information to help others game the system.