A group of Republican senators led by Joni Ernst and Tom Cotton is demanding answers from the Department of Homeland Security after news reports revealed that Afghan evacuees at US military bases are simply walking off the facilities.
Reuters reported that as many as 700 Afghans brought to the US following the Biden administration’s military withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August have left the bases before their resettlement process is completed.
”Individuals with lawful immigration status prior to the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan — such as United States citizens, lawful permanent residents, and approved special immigrant visa holders — justly expected a speedy departure from U.S. custody once they arrived safely in the United States,” Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
“However, a more extensive review and vetting process is absolutely essential for the tens of thousands of unknown Afghans who were airlifted during the evacuation. The Biden administration’s obfuscation and steadfast refusal to answer oversight inquiries from Congress exacerbates these concerns,” the senator wrote.
In a separate letter, Ernst of Iowa and 15 other Republican senators wrote to Mayorkas and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to raise concerns about threats to national security given the evacuees have not been fully vetted.
“The Biden Administration’s security vetting procedures to clear Afghans entering the country remain unclear and incomplete, and, unless changed, are insufficient to preserve the safety of the American homeland,” the senators, including Marco Rubio of Florida and John Cornyn of Texas, wrote.
“We are concerned the hastily developed process creates gaps in security and criminal vetting and risks our Nation’s security. We urge that you pause relocating any more Afghan evacuees to the United States, except for fully-vetted Afghans holding Special Immigration Visas, and complete all appropriate vetting procedures at safe locations abroad,” it continued.
Both letters were sent on Monday.
The senators also want answers about alleged criminal behavior involving assault and rape among Afghan evacuees.
“The American people have seen reports of a group of male Afghan evacuees assaulting a female servicemember at a Fort Bliss facility in New Mexico. An Afghan evacuee allegedly sexually assaulted young boys at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. Another Afghan evacuee reportedly choked his wife at Fort McCoy. The State Department has raised concerns about child trafficking by older Afghan men,” Cotton said.
”In light of these reports, it is alarming that hundreds of Afghan evacuees have reportedly left U.S. military bases directly into our communities, possibly before completing our vetting and immigration processes,” he added.
Cotton laid out a series of questions he wants DHS to respond to by Friday.
They include how many Afghans have left the bases, what requirements they have to meet to leave, and what conditions are placed on them when they depart.
He also inquired about the vetting process and what DHS is doing to track down the Afghans who walked off the bases.
DHS, responding to the Reuters story, wouldn’t provide a number of evacuees who have left the bases, but said the Afghans who did “generally” had ties — family members or friends and the means to support themselves — in the US.
The department also said that early on in the operation, many of those evacuated were US citizens, permanent residents or Afghans who had been approved for special immigrant visas.
They were able to leave quickly.
A DHS spokesperson told Fox News, which first reported on the Ernst letter, that evacuees went through security screenings before arriving in the US.
“Before arriving at safe havens, these individuals underwent a multi-layer screening and vetting process involving biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, as well as, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and additional Intelligence Community (IC) partners before they were permitted entry into the United States,” the spokesperson said.
“Furthermore, those with pending immigration cases are required to maintain contact with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to keep their pending case in good status,” the spokesperson said.