A scathing new report from the DHS Inspector General concluded that "DHS may have admitted or paroled individuals into the United States who pose a risk to national security and the safety of local communities."
The report's findings and timing are significant considering that there's a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress who are looking to pass legislation to expedite green cards for Afghan evacuees who don't qualify for refugee status or the Special Immigrant Visas set aside by Congress for Afghan evacuees.
The report, containing some redactions, dropped earlier this week, just a few weeks after the one-year anniversary of the United States' botched evacuation from Afghanistan. The Inspector General found that DHS did not adequately vet Afghan evacuees because they did not always have:
- a list of Afghan evacuees who were unable to provide sufficient identification documents;
- a contingency plan to support similar emergency situations; and
- standardized policies.
For Afghans who were successfully evacuated from Afghanistan, the U.S. provided three paths for entry into the United States.
First, Afghans could qualify for the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The program was available to any Afghan national who had a credible fear of returning to Afghanistan because they faced persecution by the new Taliban regime. The refugee program included one of the more vigorous vetting processes including biometric and biographic screening. Those found to be eligible for refugee status receive a green card.
Second, Afghans could qualify for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. The SIV program provides a green card to Afghan nationals who served as translators for U.S. troops in Afghanistan. While the screening is not quite as rigorous as the screening for refugees, applicants were still subject to background checks conducted by both the Departments of Defense and State and other security checks.
Third, the Biden Administration used its executive parole powers to admit Afghan evacuees who didn't qualify for refugee status or the SIV program. It's this group that poses the greatest threat to national security and public safety. Under parole, Afghans are not eligible for a green card, but do receive protection from deportation and a work permit. While decisions for refugees and SIV applicants go through an adjudication process with DHS and/or the State Department, decisions for parolees were purely discretionary by administration officials. Unfortunately, most of the vetting process for Afghan parolees was redacted by the Inspector General, but the audit identified a number of shortcomings with the process. According to the IG report, approximately 72,500 Afghan evacuees were paroled into the U.S.
The Biden Administration did establish a formal process for screening and vetting Afghan nationals who were considered for parole, but the process wasn't as rigorous as one would hope. It included an initial screening to determine eligibility to enter the U.S. and whether the individual could pose a threat to the U.S. Following the initial screening, U.S. officials were to vet biometric and biographical information to ensure the individual did not have derogatory information in U.S. databases. Lastly, Afghans were to be physically inspected to ensure that they were who they said they were.
While the process existed, the IG's audit concluded that U.S. officials "did not always have critical data to properly screen, vet, or inspect Afghan evacuees."
As a result, DHS paroled at least two individuals into the United States who posed a risk to national security and the safety of local communities and may have admitted or paroled more individuals of concern.
The IG audit found that 417 Afghans who were paroled had a first name recorded as "unknown." Another 242 individuals had a last name recorded as "unknown." And more than 11,000 individuals had a birthdate recorded as "January 1." Without the complete biographical information, it was impossible for Biden Administration officials to properly identify and vet the individuals. But the administration prioritized admission to the U.S. over the safety and security of the country. The IG also found a number of discrepancies with the evacuees travel documents.
Evacuees were flown from Afghanistan to one of 4 "lily pads" located on U.S. bases in Europe or the Middle East. It was at the lily pads that evacuees were initially screened and needed to to be "green lighted" before boarding a plane for the United States. But the IG's audit found that at least 35 Afghan evacuees were allowed to board a flight even though they had not been "green lighted." Further, 1,299 evacuees were not even fingerprinted before boarding a flight to the U.S.
Again, the timing of the IG report is critical. Before Congress broke for the August recess, a bipartisan group of Senators, including Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.), introduced S. 4787 which would issue green cards to the Afghan parolees. On the Senate schedule for September is the Department of Defense Authorization Act and a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government beyond the end of the month. Both pieces of legislation could be used as a vehicle to pass S. 4787 despite the concerns detailed in the IG report. While these Senators have expressed a need to support Afghans who helped U.S. troops in Afghanistan, primarily those who served as translators, most of those individuals should qualify for refugee or SIV status.
You can read the full IG report here.
CHRIS CHMIELENSKI is a V.P., Deputy Director for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Sep 27th 2022 @ 1:59pm EDT