Lawmakers push for numbers behind Afghan evacuation
Lawmakers on Tuesday aired frustration over a lack of data disclosed by the Biden administration, which has boasted of evacuating more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan but hasn’t provided a precise breakdown of the different categories of those who fled the country amid and after the U.S. withdrawal.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), speaking to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, pointed to a gap between the 60,000 people who have been brought into the U.S. and the total number evacuated.
“We don’t know the remaining where they’re going, who they are, are they coming here or not. We don’t know the breakdown of refugees and parolees. We don’t know the breakdown of SIVs — special immigrant visas — and what are called partial SIV immigrant visas or folks that were American citizens and green card holders. There’s some very basic pieces of information that we keep trying to be able to get,” Lankford said.
“None of those should be unrealistic questions. Those all should be data points that should be coming to you,” he added.
Mayorkas did offer some figures during the hearing, saying that roughly 12,000 Afghans remain at different military sites while they await vetting to enter the U.S.
He also pointed to previously released numbers from the administration, noting that of the 60,000 Afghans who have entered the U.S., nearly 8,000 are either U.S. citizens or residents, while about 1,800 are SIV holders, having obtained visas after assisting the U.S. military.
But he did not provide numbers for how many fit into the Priority 1 and Priority 2 categories created for vulnerable Afghans and others who assisted in a range of U.S. projects.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee ranking member Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said the U.S. left allies behind and that Homeland Security has relied too heavily on “paroling” people into the country, a process that allows it to temporarily waive immigration requirements to allow people to enter the U.S. and begin the work to gain status.
“Around 75 percent of the people who came are called parolees, meaning they don’t fit in any of those categories,” he said. “Does that concern you?”
“We all know that we left American citizens behind, but mostly we left behind people who had helped us. But we also had people get on these flights to leave who, as far as we know at this point, had no connection to us in the sense of helping us or helping our allies,” Portman added later.
Mayorkas pushed back on Portman’s assertion, describing that group as a mix of those who are still having their SIVs processed or who likely qualify for the Priority 1 or Priority 2 programs.
“We have individuals who have been employed or locally in Afghanistan by unit, the United States, who have assisted us in Afghanistan. … It’s a very mixed population, and we screen and vet that remaining group, as we screen and vet all,” he said, adding that his department captures biometric and biographical data while running names through a number of intelligence community databases.
Asked by Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) about how many who were evacuated failed the screenings, Mayorkas called the number “de minimis.”