It has been a week since the end of the American airlift that evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans out of Kabul, and there are still more questions than answers over who exactly they are, which ones have reached the U.S., how they were chosen and where they will end up.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who is in charge of the resettlement operations, promised to put American safety foremost. He has divulged little else so far.
The secretary did confirm that some people on security watchlists were among the Afghans evacuated and said they were being held. Officials were trying to work with other countries to figure out which ones could take them.
Mr. Mayorkas declined to speculate on how many total Afghans would be resettled in the U.S. but said the number was higher than 50,000.
He said the Biden administration expected to help more Afghans leave their country, so any count would be premature.
He projected confidence in the mission, though.
“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.
Republicans are growing restless with the lack of solid information.
Chairman Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican, and fellow members of the House Freedom Caucus said in a letter to Mr. Mayorkas that it was time to divulge whether the government collected fingerprints from every person brought to the U.S. under the homeland security secretary’s parole powers.
He asked for a full explanation of how the government vetted people rushing to board airplanes to flee Afghanistan.
Mr. Biggs also demanded to know how Mr. Mayorkas’ department was monitoring the 20,000 Afghans already on U.S. soil and what would happen to those later found to be security risks.
“We have all watched the chaotic evacuation scenes play out in Afghanistan. It has raised serious questions on who is being brought into our country,” the congressman told The Washington Times. “We need to ensure that these individuals are being properly vetted and do not pose a risk to our communities. American safety must be prioritized.”
He cited reporting by The Washington Times on a 47-year-old Afghan citizen who made it to the U.S. on an evacuation flight despite having a rape conviction and deportation on his record. He also cited multiple news reports that authorities had matched as many as 100 evacuated Afghans to government watch lists.
Rep. Thomas P. Tiffany, Wisconsin Republican, has kept close tabs on Fort McCoy, one of eight U.S. military bases holding Afghans.
He wrote to resettlement organizations in his state that will help the Afghans once they leave the fort. He told the organizations that they will bear the burden of monitoring the arrivals and reporting any suspicious activity to the Department of Homeland Security.
“You must exercise due diligence by observing, asking questions, and sharing any significant information with the appropriate authorities,” he wrote. “Americans are counting on you.”
Members of Congress reacted with outrage to reports that airlift evacuees included “child brides” and families with multiple wives.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, called the situation “an acute human rights crisis.”
“Every Biden-Harris official linked to this disgrace should and must be held accountable,” he said.
Mr. Mayorkas said in a briefing Friday that his department is overseeing multiple layers of security checks, including at military bases overseas, on flights to the U.S. and upon arrival at airports.
The secretary confirmed that officials had flagged worrying figures airlifted out of Afghanistan. He said they were not permitted to enter the U.S.
“We are working with our international allies to address the disposition of those individuals,” he said.
The deported rapist about whom The Times reported last week was flagged by Customs and Border Protection officers at Dulles International Airport and was placed in a detention facility run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
More than 120,000 people have been 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 either earned a special visa or were on a path to do so.
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 could not say how many are special visa holders and how many are being brought into the country under his humanitarian parole powers. His department later issued a fact sheet saying most will be brought to the U.S. through parole.
Pentagon officials have confirmed that a majority of people with claims to the special visa were not evacuated, breaking an American promise.
Ten Republican senators late last week fired off a letter to President Biden demanding to know what the U.S. would do for them.
Parole is good for two years and gives the arrivals a chance to apply for more permanent legal status, such as asylum.
Parolees will be issued work permits with conditions such as medical screenings, vaccinations and regular check-ins.
All 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 was voluntary, and one congressman told The Times that some Afghans walked off a base in Wisconsin.