By Masooma Haq
Republican members of Congress are calling on President Joe Biden to detail the vetting process used by his administration to screen allies and others evacuated from Afghanistan after it was reported that a man—who had years earlier been convicted of rape and deported—made it to Dulles Airport before being apprehended.
Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.) led over forty of her colleagues, including Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) in sending a letter to Biden, asking him to provide details about the vetting process being used to screen the Afghans coming to the United States, particularly those on evacuation flights.
“To be abundantly clear the United States should honor its promises to help Afghan nationals and their families who have risked their lives to support U.S. and Coalition forces, applied for the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, and are now fleeing the Taliban,” wrote the GOP House members.
“Nonetheless, there are substantial and concrete concerns that in the course of your calamitous withdrawal of troops and evacuation efforts in Afghanistan, some individuals may have made their way into the country who are terrorists or have terrorist intent, are convicted violent criminals, or are otherwise dangerous persons,” the letter continued.
One of the Afghan nationals who managed to arrive in the United States recently was found to be a convicted felon, who had previously been deported by the Department of Homeland Security. The man, 47-year-old Ghader Heydari, was found guilty of felony rape in Idaho in 2010 and later deported to Afghanistan in 2017.
The Washington Times said according to an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson, that Heydari was arrested on August 27, after arriving at Washington’s Dulles International Airport after being evacuated on a flight out of Kabul.
However, during a Monday interview, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas told CBS Evening News that Afghan nationals are vetted before arriving in the United States.
“We screen and vet individuals before they board a plane to the United States. An individual who does not satisfy our screening and vetting protocols is not admitted to the United States. And, if in fact, we learn information subsequently, we place those individuals in removal proceedings, so that they are set to leave the United States as swiftly as possible,” Mayorkas said.
When Mayorkas was asked if he can guarantee that the Taliban and those on terror watch lists are not making their way into the United States, Mayorkas said, “I can guarantee you that we are doing everything possible to make sure that they don’t. And we have no evidence that they have.”
Herrell’s district is home to Hollman and Fort Bliss military bases where about 20,000 Afghan nationals are being housed when they arrive in the United States. Herrell toured Hollman on Sept. 7 and said that the Afghans are allowed to leave the bases if they should so choose.
“They are unable to hold them there against their will,” Herrell told the Daily Mail on Sept. 8. She said that if a refugee wants to leave the base, they can.
She said that officials don’t expect many to leave because at the base they have access to paperwork that will allow their status to be fast tracked.
In the letter to Biden, the GOP lawmakers said, “DHS has released illegal aliens screened under the same U.S. government databases who were wanted for murder, as well as known MS-13 members. DHS cannot reliably assess the criminal background of a person from Bolivia, let alone Helmand Province. In fact, this vetting has already failed in the case of Afghan nationals.”
U.S. military veteran Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.) told Fox News in a Sept. 7 interview that according to his sources a large number of Afghan nationals arriving in the United States do not have documents to prove who they are and sources told him that some have left the military bases on their own.
“That is absolutely true. There are many of them that have zero documentation at all, a very large number of them like 20–30 percent,” said Green.
“We don’t have any documentation. We can’t prove the family units. I mean they can do DNA tests, but unfortunately, these people are just being allowed to leave the containment areas. They can just get up and walk out and that’s from multiple sites not just Pickett. And, they’re not tracked. They’re not accounted for. We have no way of knowing who they are,” added Green.
Green wrote a separate letter to The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asking him to look into these allegations.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment but Blinken told reporters that because of the rushed nature of the evacuation, Afghan nationals were not properly vetted until arriving in their host country.
“In our effort to get as many people out as fast as we can, while we had the airport functioning, we focused on doing just that. And we’re doing accountings on the backend, as people arrive in the United States,” Blinken said at a press briefing from Qatar on Sept. 7.