Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas flatly rejected Thursday any possibility that Islamic State terrorists have reached the U.S. as part of the evacuation from Afghanistan.
“We have no information to suggest that ISIS has come into the United States through the Afghan national population that has been admitted under our legal authorities,” Mr. Mayorkas told journalists at the National Press Club.
He has used his powers of parole to admit at least 20,000 Afghans, and expects to admit at least 30,000 more.
Mr. Mayorkas last week did confirm that people on U.S. watch lists had been identified among the tens of thousands of people airlifted out of Kabul.
But National Press Club President Lisa Matthews, a journalist at The Associated Press, challenged Mr. Mayorkas further, saying there were reports that ISIS members actually made it here, “coming in with Afghan refugees that were brought into the United States.”
The secretary said the U.S. is able to prevent bad actors from reaching here.
“We have a multilayered, multiagency screening and vetting process to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Mr. Mayorkas was speaking ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Those attacks led to the creation of his sprawling department, which combines border and immigration enforcement, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, cybersecurity, anti-human trafficking and emergency response under one roof.
“I do think we are safer because we have built an entire architecture of security,” the secretary said.
He said the threats that spawned his department haven’t disappeared, but the big dangers have changed.
For example, he said, the domestic terror threat has changed from lone-wolf actors radicalized by overseas extreme Islamist ideology to homegrown racist or nationalist attackers.
Mr. Mayorkas said he was confident the department is meeting the challenges, but said there is room for expansion as the threats evolve.
He said while the long-running “See something, say something” campaign to get Americans to report suspicious activity has worked, it needs updates.
He said Americans do report people they have concerns about radicalizing or tending toward violence, and said the slogan is also effective in areas like bus stations or airports.
He said their goal is to figure out how to make it work outside the transportation context.
“One thing we are looking at in the Department of Homeland Security is how to take that ‘see something, say something’ language and make it more accessible in our towns and communities across the country,” he said.