Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that his department had flagged some Afghan evacuees as potential security risks and blocked them from reaching the U.S., and he vowed to make American safety the core of the airlift.
In his first briefing on the airlift, Mr. Mayorkas said those who reach the U.S. will be resettled in the country. He said the U.S. has made a commitment and owes it to those who have helped the American effort or who face dangers from the Taliban takeover of their country.
He confirmed that some evacuees were flagged as security risks and blocked, but he didn’t reveal what happened to those people.
“We are working with our international allies to address the disposition of those individuals,” he said.
Multiple news reports said authorities matched as many as 100 evacuated Afghans to identities on government watch lists. None of those appeared to have reached the U.S., the reports said.
Mr. Mayorkas said his department, which is leading a vast government operation to bring Afghans to the U.S., is overseeing multiple layers of security checks, including at military bases overseas, on flights to the U.S. and upon arrival at airports.
The Washington Times reported last week that one Afghan with a rape conviction and previous deportation from the U.S. made it onto a flight and into the U.S. He was flagged by Customs and Border Protection officers at Washington Dulles International Airport and placed in a detention facility run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mr. Mayorkas did not offer many new details about the population. He repeated data that other administration officials had revealed.
He declined to speculate on how many Afghans would resettle in the U.S. other than to say the number would be higher than 50,000. He said the Biden administration expects more Afghans to leave the country, so any count now is premature.
He projected confidence in the mission.
“We can do this, and we can protect the American public, and we can pronounce through our actions the generosity and nobility of the American public,” he said.
More than 120,000 people were evacuated from Afghanistan, and 40,000 of them have reached the U.S.
Some were U.S. citizens, some were legal permanent residents of other nationalities and some were Afghans who assisted the American military’s efforts and earned, or were on the path to earn, a special visa.
Mr. Mayorkas said the U.S. is bringing in others, including “vulnerable Afghan women and girls, journalists and other constituencies that need our relief.”
He was unable to say how many are special visa holders and how many have been brought to the U.S. using his humanitarian parole powers. A fact sheet from his department said most will be brought to the country through parole.
Their parole is good for two years and gives the Afghans a chance to seek a more permanent legal status such as asylum.
Parolees will be issued work permits, but with conditions such as medical screenings, vaccinations and regular check-ins.
All new arrivals, including U.S. citizens, are being tested for COVID-19. The government is picking up the bill.
U.S. citizens and legal residents can head home once they clear testing. Parolees are encouraged to go to one of eight military bases, where government employees are processing them and providing adjustment assistance.
Mr. Mayorkas indicated that going to a military base is voluntary. One member of Congress has told The Washington Times that some Afghans have walked off a base in Wisconsin.