Republicans say steps in vetting process skipped, delayed for Afghan evacuees

Republicans say steps in vetting process skipped, delayed for Afghan evacuees
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Republicans say that steps in the vetting process for Afghan refugees were delayed, and sometimes skipped.   

An internal memo drafted for GOP members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee warned that the “standard security screening and vetting process” for refugees, including validating identification documents and in-person interviews by a trained official, is “not being followed for Afghan refugees.”

“In fact, federal officials relayed information about the process to Committee staff that raised a number of questions about the adequacy of the screening and vetting being conducted,” reads the memo, which was obtained by The Hill.  

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The memo was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Republicans have criticized the Biden administration for the vetting process of Afghan refugees, while raising concerns about welcoming refugees into the U.S.

The U.S. officially withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 31, ending the nation’s longest war. More than 124,000 people were evacuated as part of the effort, the vast majority of which were Afghans. 

Biden administration officials have called out the GOP for hypocrisy.

“Many of the same people criticizing us for bringing in Afghans were on TV calling for us to evacuate as many Afghans as possible in August,” National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne told The Hill in a statement.

When refugees arrive at military bases overseas, biographic and biometric data is collected and fed into a series of government databases used for screening purposes, a White House official told The Hill on Thursday. Those that are cleared to enter the U.S. then board a flight and go through additional screening when they land.

Refugees that are flagged at any point of the process are then interviewed by law enforcement personnel.

Ten evacuees who made it into the U.S. have been flagged for being a security risk, the Journal reported.

The memo was drafted by GOP aides to the committee who traveled to Dulles Airport in Virginia, the Fort Lee Air Base in Virginia, the Ramstein Air Base in Germany and the Rota Naval Base in Spain earlier this month.

The aides based their memo solely on interviews conducted with federal agents at the sites who are tasked with screening refugees.

According to the memo, the aides say that Afghans without identification records were approved for travel to the U.S. If an evacuee had identification, the screening process did not include validation beyond a visual inspection.

Officials also logged Afghans into tracking systems based on data included on the identification or based on the stated name or date of birth if there were no identification documents. The memo also said it was unclear whether federal officials overseas were conducting the vetting process with their counterparts “sufficiently.”

The administration official told The Hill that the "vast majority" of Afghans presented documentation on arrival, and had to provide additional identifying information to ensure appropriate screening. They also had biometric information collected, and went through the same screening process as everyone else. 

Horne told The Hill that military and government personnel “worked around the clock under very challenging conditions” to evacuate as many people as possible in August.

“Our intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals are coordinating rigorous screening and security vetting for every single Afghan before they are permitted entry into the United States, and the fact that some have been flagged by our counterterrorism, intelligence, or law enforcement professionals for additional screening shows our system is working,” Horne said.

Updated at 2:33 p.m.