The hasty evacuation from Afghanistan of approximately 122,000 people may create a national security threat in the United States. The U.S. programs that invite and relocate these individuals, especially how quickly they were dispatched to outgoing planes, are both herculean and fraught with security vulnerabilities. Fraud, the exploitation of our asylum and refugee programs, and the unrealistic and poorly staffed, unsustainable tracking programs are difficult to overcome.
Many immigration experts worry this evacuation will test the limits of our ability to safely screen and admit the evacuees when we are already being tested at our borders because of Biden policies. Recent corner-cutting bills degrade the process of proper screening of applicants.
Experts from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) believe that many of those who will enter and resettle in this particular evacuation won’t be previously screened and processed individuals who have already “completed extensive background checks and security screening by the Intelligence Community and the Departments of State and Homeland Security,” as are some of the SIVs (Special Immigration Visas).
The Biden administration’s launch of Operation Allies Refuge, announced in July, refers to the Special Immigration Visas (SIV) programs, of which there are two categories. In numbers, that amounts to about 100,000 individuals and their families (spouse and children of any age, whether married or unmarried).
Another program available to Afghans is the refugee resettlement program, which is fraught with potential security vulnerabilities. The Aug. 2 State Department announcement discusses the “Priority 2 (P-2) designation granting U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) access for certain Afghan nationals and their eligible family members.”
Nayla Rush, a migration expert with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), explains the details of these two programs in her Aug. 24 paper, How Many Afghans Should We Admit. The first SIV program, she says, is limited:
“The smaller of the two SIV programs is for Afghan Translators/Interpreters, which offers visas to up to 50 principal applicants a year. Over the last 15 years, 2,000 Afghans have been admitted under this program, including 1,400 family members. Let’s assume all the spots are still available; that’s another 50 Afghans plus, say, 200 family members, for a total of 250.”
The other SIV program is a much larger one that caters to those who have been employed by or worked with the U.S. government “who could face repercussions because of this employment.”
Importantly, she notes that the specified parameters of such service were recently reduced from two years to one and added 8,000 additional SIVS for Afghans. Per the state department website regulating admission and travel,
“The Emergency Security Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, as enacted on July 30, 2021, authorized 8,000 additional Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) for Afghan principal applicants, for a total of 34,500 visas allocated since December 19, 2014…The program will end when all visas have been issued. SIVs issued to a principal applicant’s spouse and children do not count toward the numerical limit.”
The number of Afghan SIVs issued in the Second Quarter of FY 2021 (January 1,
2021 to March 31, 2021) was 15,641 according to the Joint Department of State/Department of Homeland Security Report. Rush adds that
“[M]ore recent Afghan SIV admissions are available here: some 1,060 Afghans were admitted during April – July 2021. But these are principal applicants and their family members.”
Pending applications, including incomplete applications “from Afghan principal applicants, is about 18,000.” She also states that U.S. Officials do not seem to know the “total number of Afghans eligible for the program.” She continues, “As noted by the Congressional Research Service:
“Asked at the House hearing whether he had an estimate of how many Afghans may be eligible for the Afghan SIV program who had not yet applied, Special Representative Khalilzad replied, “’I do not.’”
Rush arrives at a number of 100,000, not including those fleeing who have no status—
“There should still be around 11,000 SIV spots available for Afghan principal applicants. Let’s add to this number 8,000 spots as per the new allocation: We end up with 19,000 SIVs for principal applicants. Dependents can add up to three or four times that number, so 60,000-80,000 family members. The total is around 100,000 SIVs available to Afghan principal applicants and their family members.”
The refugee program or Direct Access Priority 2 Resettlement Program include the following:
Notably, while the refugee resettlement program is capped yearly by the President’s determination and consultation with Congress, Rush writes that President Biden raised the “FY 2021 ceiling to 62,500 (from the 15,000 cap set by President Trump).”
Breibart reporting states that refugee resettlement:
“costs American taxpayers nearly $9 billion every five years, according to research, and each refugee costs taxpayers about $133,000 over the course of their lifetime. Within five years, an estimated 16 percent of all refugees admitted will need housing assistance paid for by taxpayers.”
Rush concludes on refugee admissions:
“Actual refugee admissions from all countries this fiscal year (through July 31) total 6,274 (of whom 494 were from Afghanistan). This leaves 56,226 spots for the remainder of this fiscal year, i.e., through September 30. If all spots were to be used by Afghan nationals, that would mean refugees from other countries (such as Syrians, Burmese, Congolese, et al.) would be left behind. This would also be true if the refugee ceiling is increased in FY 2022 to 125,000 admissions or more, as promised by Biden.
Finally, there are millions of Afghans who did not assist U.S. forces but who could nonetheless end up wanting to leave their country as refugees, fearful of a Taliban rule. (Afghanistan’s population is about 38 million.) The United States cannot possibly welcome millions of potential Afghan refugees.”
In a recent interview with Mark Kirkorian, Rush outlines the difficulty we face with the sheer numbers now pushing an already burgeoning system due to Biden administration border policies. She says many will have pending applications coming to bases here or in other countries. If they are processed and denied, what happens then, she asks. The UN non-refoulment principle prevents refugees from being sent back to a country where they would be endangered.
Therefore, says Rush, “you are talking about the open slots and the pending slots…some will overlap, but my guess is it could be 150,000 in total” because of this evacuation. She also noted that many more Afghans who did not collaborate with the U.S. would attempt to enter the country because of Taliban control. That brings the total number, Rush says, “closer to 200,000” seeking to resettle here.
In the same interview with Rush and Kirkorian was Retired INS / ICE official, Dan Cadman, who has thirty years of government experience, says anyone who says a proper vetting of all the Afghans wanting to come here is “completely unrealistic.”
“Keep in mind pretty much the entire duration of our two decades stay in Afghanistan, one of the problems that our military has faced are these so-called “green-on-blue attacks,” which is to say Afghan the soldiers and interpreters and translators as ostensibly our friends and allies attacking U.S. military. NATO forces there. For instance, in 2012, the International Force Commander, John Allen, said that about half of the green-on-blue attacks that year alone were carried out by Taliban infiltrators.
Now keep in mind, he continues, that was in-country, and these were people who had been vetted theoretically, ostensibly to the highest standards because they knew that these people would be working closely side by side with Americans and other NATO forces in the country. And, if half of the green-on-blue attacks were carried out by Taliban infiltrators then— there’s no reason to think that our vetting is going to be any better at all from thousands of miles away, where even the limited window that we had into the countryside and the villages and the tribes— when we were physically present as a force disappears— is beyond reasonable. It’s just— it’s appalling to think about.”
Cadman goes on to talk about denied applications due to fraud, criminality, or association with extremist groups like the Taliban. He states that with time and a full staff doing the processing under normal circumstances, SIVs’ denials are very high, over 50 percent.
“..the primary reasons for those denials were fraud or criminality or association with extremist groups, whether it was the Taliban or others. So if this was going on while the American embassy was fully staffed and had cooperation of US and international force— military had CIA officers and other intelligence organizations working together to ferret out this information— if the denials were so high then, they theoretically should be that high once they’re in the United States. Let’s be honest… the window to look into Afghanistan is rising close very quickly, if not already closed altogether.
So who exactly is getting through the checkpoints to get onto those aircraft? I read where one C130 pilot just accepted anybody rather than leave them on the ground or risk them trying to put themselves in the wheel well or someplace else dangerous. But if it has gotten to the point of such chaos that they’re throwing anyone onto the airplanes, we have no idea what is headed in our direction.”
The threat of bad actors slipping through the cracks and remaining is real. The Washington Times, on Aug. 30, wrote that convicted rapist, Ghader Heydari, who had been deported from the U.S., re-entered the U.S. on an Ethiopian charter flight out of Afghanistan, arriving at Dulles Airport on Aug. 30. He is being detained at the Caroline Detention Facility in Bowling Green, Virginia. However, he may be able to take advantage of humanitarian parole. Per the report:
“They are bringing far too many people in far too quickly to be able to effectively vet them,” said Ken Cuccinelli, a deputy secretary at Homeland Security in the Trump administration.
Heydari’s exact path to entry is not clear, though it’s unlikely he holds a Special Immigrant Visa. Those were reserved for Afghans who provided significant support for the U.S. in the war effort. It’s also not likely he is a refugee, given his immigration history.
That leaves parole, a power the homeland security secretary has to grant admission to the U.S. in exceptional humanitarian cases. Most Afghans evacuated to the U.S. appear to be parolees rather than having official immigration status.
Where Do Afghans Go And What Happens To Them?
Reuters writes, “Afghans who lack valid immigration status when they arrive in the United States can be permitted to enter for a temporary period via “‘humanitarian parole.'”
U.S. passport-holding citizens arrive and move on to their destinations after being tested for COVID-19. However, SIVs go through a process. Per Reuters:
“SIV-eligible Afghans and other Afghan arrivals go to U.S. military bases in Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, and New Jersey for processing, according to people familiar with the process. Afghans sent to the military bases receive a health screening and help in applying for work authorization, along with other services. The processing can take anywhere from a day to a week or more, a refugee staffer working at Fort Lee in Virginia told Reuters.
After processing at the military bases, Afghans will be connected with a U.S. refugee resettlement organization, a senior U.S. official said. The groups provide SIV-eligible Afghans and others with housing, furniture, and food, and help them adjust to life in the United States.”
Afghans seeking SIV status must go through a 14-step process that “includes a visa interview and security screening.”
“Applicants in early stages of the process “are being sent to third countries, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Germany. read more In those countries, the Afghans undergo “robust security processing,” per Reuters. “That process involves biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock to vet all of these Afghans before they’re allowed into the United States.”
Refugee resettlement groups typically receive two weeks’ notice, impossible in this situation because of the timeline of the Afghan evacuation.
The New York Post writes:
“[t]he Defense Department said last week it was building facilities on seven military bases to handle up to 50,000 evacuees. As of late last week, there were already 21,000 Afghans at Virginia’s Fort Lee, Fort Bliss in Texas, Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy, and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey.”
“Additional bases are being set up in Virginia’s Marine Corps Base Quantico and Fort Pickett and Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to house extra evacuees. US officials expect to reach the 50,000 mark by Sep. 15. Prior to being clear to fly into the United States, Afghan evacuees are being processed by US Customs and Border Protection agents at airbases in Qatar and Bahrain.”
According to the New York Post, 34 children have already arrived unaccompanied by an adult and are now being cared for by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement. The Post also states that “France has taken in more than 2,600 Afghans, Italy evacuated 4,800 and Germany helped 4,100 Afghans flee in recent weeks.”
Caden asks an important question about the demographics of these groups. He wonders when we will see those statistics.
“When are we going to see how many of these are men aged between, say 25 to 45 versus women and children, and how are we going to be able to vouchsafe that they were actually helping the United States or its partners or even its contractors?”
“The scope of this basket has widened,” Caden continues, “..at some point, we have to ask ourselves do we really have that large a moral responsibility to people like that I’m not sure that we do.”
Reinforcing Rush’s comment on non-refoulment, Caden admonishes,
“This principle of non-return— what that means basically is that once these people are brought here under any circumstance whether it is SIVs or “Joe blow” who happens to get thrown on an airplane during this fire-brigade bucket toss— once they’re in the United States, even if it’s in a parole status— it’s going to be near impossible to send them back.”
“And even if it’s because they have alleged affiliations with extremists and terrorists, our track record as a country isn’t particularly good at getting people like that out. Not at all.”
Kirkorian adds, “Literally once the plane touches down on the runway in the United States, it’s game over. They’re here for the rest of their lives.”