By: Casey Harper | The Center Square
The Republican leadership on the House Department of Homeland Security Committee is raising concerns about whether droves of Afghan refugees were vetted properly before being allowed into the U.S.
The Afghan refugee issue was caused in part by President Joe Biden’s deadly and chaotic withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021. Nearly 80,000 Afghan evacuees were resettled in the U.S. between July 2021 and January 2022, but reports indicate there was not enough information to adequately vet them.
House Committee on Homeland Security Chairman Mark E. Green, R-Tenn., issued a subpoena Tuesday to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, saying he has failed to give the committee adequate answers on this subject.
“For example, the Department failed to produce a single e-mail or other communication from Department employees related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan or Customs and Border Protection’s screening, vetting, or inspection of Afghan evacuees at U.S. ports of entry,” Green said in a letter to Mayorkas accompanying the subpoena.
A DHS spokesperson told The Center Square that the agency is using “every tool available” to vet those entering the U.S.
“Afghan evacuees undergo a multi-layered, rigorous screening and vetting process that begins overseas and is conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and State, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and additional Intelligence Community partners,” the spokesperson said.
A federal watchdog report from 2022 gave credence to Green’s concerns. That report found that “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not always have critical data to properly screen, vet, or inspect the evacuees.”
“We determined some information used to vet evacuees through U.S. Government databases, such as name, date of birth, identification number, and travel document data, was inaccurate, incomplete, or missing,” the report found. “We also determined CBP admitted or paroled evacuees who were not fully vetted into the United States.”
“As a result, DHS may have admitted or paroled individuals into the United States who pose a risk to national security and the safety of local communities,” the IG report added.
This comes as national security experts have raised increasing concerns about the threat of a terror attack from migrants coming from countries known for terrorism.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reported a major spike in the number of migrants apprehended at the border who are on the federal terror watch list.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s San Diego field office warned a week ago that Hamas may attempt to send individuals to the U.S. through the southern border.
“San Diego Field Office Intelligence Unit (SDFO-FITU) assesses that individuals inspired by, or reacting to, the current Israel-Hamas conflict may attempt travel to or from the area of hostilities in the Middle East via circuitous transit across the Southwest border,” an unclassified document from the office reads.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesperson told The Center Square they have seen “no indication of Hamas-directed foreign fighters seeking to make entry into the United States.”
Green said the committee has been trying to get answers since 2021 and reiterates a common theme, saying DHS provided indecipherable data or incomplete information.
“This month, the Committee followed up on October 3, 2023, with both a telephone call and e-mail, and again on October 17, 2023, with an e-mail regarding the protracted delay in satisfying the Committee’s requests,” Green’s letter said. “On October 20, 2023, the Department provided a partial production containing limited data on Afghan evacuees 5 Although the production contained 1,601 pages, it is wholly inadequate. For example, 150 pages were either wholly redacted, devoid of content, or illegible.
“Further, many of the remaining pages appear to be nothing more than scanned printouts from spreadsheets of data that were provided in a format that rendered them indecipherable,” the letter adds.
The DHS spokesperson also pushed back on the committee, saying it has received a high volume of requests but that it will continue to work with the committee on this issue.
The committee has also provided an array of witnesses to Congress on this topic for hearings and transcribed interviews.
“In recent weeks, the Department produced nearly seven thousand pages of documents and data in response to CHS requests, including this one,” a spokesperson told The Center Square. “Rather than work with us, CHS floods the Department with an unprecedented and inordinate volume of requests and imposes unrealistic and arbitrary timelines. This conduct undermines the Department’s ability to respond effectively, not only to CHS, but to all of Congress.”