Mayorkas: Afghanistan evacuation 'will not end' until all US citizens, allies resettled

Mayorkas: Afghanistan evacuation 'will not end' until all US citizens, allies resettled
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Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro MayorkasAlejandro MayorkasJohns Hopkins to launch degree program in cybersecurity and policy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Altria - New front in mandate wars; debt bill heads to Biden DHS to end workplace raids, shift focus to employers over undocumented workers MORE said the mission to evacuate American citizens, allies and vulnerable people from Afghanistan will continue until all those who wish to leave are out of the country.

"Our mission is not accomplished until we have safely evacuated all the U.S. citizens who wish to leave Afghanistan, all lawful permanent residents, all individuals who have assisted the United States in Afghanistan," Mayorkas told reporters Friday.

"This effort will not end until we have achieved that goal," he added.

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So far the evacuation effort has extracted about 120,000 people from Afghanistan, and about 40,000 have been admitted into the United States.

The secretary stated that of that number, around 8 percent have been U.S. citizens, 13 percent legal permanent residents, and 79 percent people with other immigration classifications, including Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who helped U.S. efforts in the country.

Mayorkas said Operation Allies Welcome — the mission to extract people from Afghanistan, vet them and resettle them — will be coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with assistance from a range of agencies, including the departments of State, Justice and Health and Human Services.

Mayorkas appointed Robert Fenton, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) career professional who briefly led the agency in an acting capacity, as head of the Unified Coordination Group (UCG) to lead the inter-agency effort.

"This initiative requires us to call on the resources, expertise and authorities of every part of the federal government. DHS possesses vast operational expertise and a long record of leadership, bringing different agencies together to execute a single mission," said Mayorkas.

The end of the Afghanistan war, a personal directive of President BidenJoe BidenJill Biden campaigns for McAuliffe in Virginia Fill the Eastern District of Virginia  Biden: Those who defy Jan. 6 subpoenas should be prosecuted MORE's, was marred by a rapidly collapsing Afghan government, a chaotic takeover of the country by the Taliban and a terror attack at Kabul's airport which killed more than 100 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members.

Efforts to evacuate Americans, Afghan allies and vulnerable populations from the country have earned the administration criticism from both sides of the aisle, even as the federal government coordinated the most consequential airlift since the Berlin Airlift in the late 1940s.

"It is unprecedented and historic because of its sheer scale — we have evacuated more than 120,000 people — and it is unprecedented and historic in that we have achieved that extraordinary feat in such a short period of time," said Mayorkas.

Still, Mayorkas said the administration's focus is on the coming weeks and months, and the successful resettlement of the tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees.

In order to resettle a large population from Afghanistan to the United States, Mayorkas said, traditional systems of immigrant vetting have been compounded with additional "layers" in third country sites where evacuees are evaluated.

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"The federal government has been focused on the screening and vetting of individuals evacuated from Afghanistan. The Department of Homeland Security remains ever vigilant against attempts by foreign adversaries to exploit vulnerable populations as a means of gaining access to the U.S. for nefarious purposes," said Mayorkas.

DHS shipped biometric scanning technology to bases in places like Qatar, where Afghans are undergoing screening before they're allowed to continue to the United States.

Mayorkas did not specify where individuals who failed the screening would be sent, but said DHS is "working with allies to address the disposition of those individuals."

"If and when we obtain derogatory information, we know how to address that. Those muscles are very well exercised. In fact, we have and we deny access to individuals whose derogatory information is not resolved," said Mayorkas.

The evacuees are landing in the U.S. at Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., and at Philadelphia International Airport, where DHS officials are processing immigration paperwork and screening for COVID-19.

Mayorkas said the "vast majority" of evacuees are then choosing to be relocated to one of eight military bases where the federal government is giving medical, immigration and resettlement assistance.

Still, DHS officials are taking the brunt of the casework, at a time when DHS agencies are already stretched thin dealing with an influx of asylum applicants at the border and a push to speed up immigrant applications across the board.

"Our resources are indeed stressed, but what we already have been able to accomplish in our Operation Allies Welcome, and what we will accomplish in achieving this effort, speaks to the extraordinary talent and dedication of the workforce ... not only in U.S. Citizen Services but in U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the other agencies that are dedicating their energies and loyalty to this effort," said Mayorkas.