National security experts have urged American governors to disregard conservative news reports denigrating the vetting process for Afghan allies resettling in the United States. Instead, they asked governors to trust screening procedures for arrivals and to welcome the evacuees into their states.
“The safety of the United States and its citizens is paramount. As national security leaders, we are troubled by recent misinformation asserting that Afghan refugees are not being thoroughly vetted and may pose a threat to national security,” the experts said in a Nov. 2 letter to governors from the Council on National Security and Immigration.
“Media reports of a relatively small number of evacuees being flagged at various stages of the vetting process are further evidence that the system is working as expected: Individuals who raise security concerns are identified, and their entrance to the U.S. is either postponed pending further vetting or denied.”
Rigorous screenings required
The letter and a related Nov. 3 press conference came months after the Biden administration agreed to accept 60,000 Afghans through Operation Allies Welcome. The undertaking is part of the U.S. response to the collapse of Afghanistan as military forces withdrew in August. Many of the refugees hold Special Immigrant Visas and served as interpreters for coalition forces during the Afghan war.
Even with those qualifications, however, Afghan allies must undergo rigorous screenings by federal officials using FBI, Department of Defense and Department of Justice databanks, Robert Mocny, a former immigrant screening official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said during the press conference.
“We want to ensure governors and the American people these Afghan refugees are thoroughly vetted,” he said.
The vetting system began in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks and evolved to incorporate the security databases of multiple U.S. and allied agencies, Mocny said. U.S. and its allies collected military records electronically on battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The system utilizes a whole-of-government approach, coordinating numerous federal agencies and the intelligence community to quickly identify derogatory information and potential threats,” the security experts’ letter told the governors.
The screenings began well ahead of refugees’ arrival on American shores. “Before any evacuee from Afghanistan is permitted to enter the U.S., they are required to undergo multiple layers of vetting and screening, including biographical and biometric checks,” the letter explained. “Their identification information is checked against numerous agencies’ watch lists and biometric holdings, and any flags result in further vetting and investigations until the flags are resolved or a denial of entrance into the country.”
Well-vetted refugees actually contribute to national security, the security experts stressed.
“Their identification information is checked against numerous agencies’ watch lists and biometric holdings, and any flags result in further vetting and investigations until the flags are resolved or a denial of entrance into the country.”
“This rigorous vetting apparatus is keeping our communities safe, despite the deeply flawed withdrawal process from Afghanistan,” their letter said. “By providing a safe home for these allies, we are doing our humanitarian duty and bolstering our national security: Welcoming Afghan evacuees to the U.S. is a way for us to champion ideals of democracy and freedom and to demonstrate that we will always stand by the allies who are critical to our military and diplomatic efforts.”
Challenging time — for U.S. and allies
The plea to governors arrived at a challenging time for the United States and the Afghan allies it is attempting resettle. While some of the refugees already have been relocated, more than 50,000 remain on foreign and domestic military installations, awaiting release to their new communities.
“The withdrawal from Afghanistan has left thousands of our Afghan allies stranded without a clear path to safety for themselves and their families,” the letter stated.
“As evacuation and resettlement efforts continue, we write to share our conviction that the vetting and screening process for these individuals remains robust, secure and effective,” the letter said. “We have a moral obligation to honor our promises to our Afghan allies. Welcoming them into our communities is safe and will bolster our economic and national security.”
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