Homeland Security announced the departure of the last Afghan evacuees from military bases on U.S. soil Saturday, saying 76,000 of them have been processed and released into American communities.
A base in New Jersey became the last to shut down its migrant camp, ending a critical period in the evacuation efforts just a week shy of the six-month mark of the end of the chaotic airlift that accompanied the end of U.S. operations in Afghanistan.
Officials are now looking to set up a new location to handle future Afghans who are able to make it out of their home country and who are deemed to be eligible for resettlement in the U.S., but for now, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey will take any newcomers that do emerge from the struggling country.
The airlift and housing here in the U.S.; was dubbed Operation Allies Welcome, and was billed as a chance to help Afghans who risked their lives to assist the 20-year U.S. war effort and are in line for the Special Immigrant Visa. In reality, most of those airlifted out do not appear to qualify for the special visa, but had other ties to the U.S., or were simply in a better position to reach the airport in Kabul amid the Taliban takeover in August.
They were brought to third countries and given a once-over by American officials before being airlifted to migrant camps in eight military bases across the U.S.
The final two of those camps emptied out this week.
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Homeland Security insists those who made it to the U.S. faced “rigorous, multi-layered screening.”
But a new investigation by the Pentagon’s inspector general this week found serious holes in the process. The audit said information from several Defense Department systems was excluded from the database checks, which allowed dozens of people with “significant security concerns” to reach the U.S.
Many of those were released, or walked off the military bases before officials realized the security breach, and the government was having a tough time tracking them down, the inspector general reported.
“Not being able to locate Afghan evacuees with derogatory information quickly and accurately could pose a security risk to the United States,” the audit concluded.
The botched database checks come on top of earlier revelations that most evacuees reached the U.S. without going through in-person interviews. That marks a departure from the usual processing Afghans would have had to face, and experts describe the interview as a crucial security step, where trained people sniff out bogus or dangerous claims.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, called the new revelation about botched database checks a “debacle.”
“Joe Biden promised to vet the evacuees that came to America after his retreat from Afghanistan. But he didn’t, and now American lives are at risk,” he said in a statement.
Most Afghan evacuees were brought to the U.S. on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas’s say-so, under his powers of “humanitarian parole.”
That is a short-term legal status that allows them to live and work in the country, with a chance to try to secure a more permanent status such as seeking asylum or completing the special visa process.
Most are expected to attempt to claim asylum, but there could be hiccups.
One asylum officer ruled in a case last month against an evacuee, finding that while conditions in Afghanistan may be rough, the evacuee didn’t personally face any threats from the Taliban government.
“Despite country reports indicating that the Taliban are openly targeting people and their family members, you do not seem to fall within the realm of the people they are targeting due to the work you did with the United States government as a mechanic, and the fact that no one in your family still living in Afghanistan have been harmed, threatened or questions about you,” the asylum officer wrote in a “Notice of Intent to Deny” that has caught the attention of immigration lawyers.