By James Bowen
Since American troops departed from Kabul in summer of 2021, the United States has welcomed more than 79,000 Afghan evacuees.
That’s a testament to U.S. compassion — but a challenge for national security. According to a recent report from the Office of Inspector General, the Department of Homeland Security failed to meet crucial vetting requirements before admitting thousands of Afghans, including at least two who posed a danger to “national security and the safety of local communities.”
Of course, the United States has a vested interest in helping its allies. But that’s no excuse for ignoring protocol. Poorly-vetted newcomers could pose a national security risk, and DHS needs to take that possibility seriously.
Back in August 2021, many Afghans pressed across the tarmac and onto American planes without much vetting. So the United States shipped thousands of evacuees to “lily pad” sites in countries such as Italy, Germany, Qatar, and Kuwait, where American officials would clear the migrants for U.S. entry.
At the time, President Biden promised no refugee would touch U.S. soil without first undergoing “thorough scrutiny.” But in reality, federal officials were consistently sloppy. Nearly 1,300 Afghan evacuees were cleared to fly to America without first providing their fingerprints — and 35 were pushed onto a U.S. airplane without the necessary “green status.”
The confusion continued on U.S. shores, where the government relied on Operation Allies Welcome to resettle newcomers. Unfortunately, officials left a jumbled paper trail, according to the Inspector General’s report. In fact, hundreds of evacuees were admitted without providing satisfactory first or last names, dates of birth, or travel document numbers.
Of course, sloppy paperwork doesn’t imply that each refugee is lying. Many Afghans go by a single name and don’t know their own date of birth.
What fails to reassure, however, is that American officials accidentally admitted or paroled dozens of newcomers with “derogatory information” on file, according to internal DHS records.
One evacuee had just escaped an Afghan prison with the help of the Taliban. The individual was eventually deported after a weeks-long stay in the United States. The OIG suspects at least 50 Afghan arrivals of posing “potentially significant security concerns,” according to a report from last February.
Some Afghans have already been charged with serious crimes. In October of 2021, a refugee allegedly raped an 18-year-old girl in a Montana hotel-room. Another Afghan faces charges in the slaying of three men in New Mexico, according to reports.
It’s time for the government to step in, check its work, and remedy its mistakes. So far, however, DHS has rejected the recommendations the OIG report provided. Meanwhile, some in the Senate have pushed to expand Afghans’ eligibility for special immigrant visas.
That’s grossly premature. President Biden should encourage DHS to complete all vetting procedures for admitted or paroled Afghans, and to develop a comprehensive plan for future emergencies — as the Inspector General suggested.
That’s a practical way forward. Compassion must not come at the expense of American security.
James Bowen, Ph.D., is a high energy nuclear physicist from Kansas City, Kansas. He is an avid outdoorsman who is concerned about the upward trajectory of U.S. population, driven by immigration, and its consequences — such as increased urban sprawl, traffic congestion, and destruction of wildlife habitat. This article was first published in the Washington Times.