Between July 2021 and January 2022, the United States welcomed more than 79,000 Afghan evacuees as part of as part of Operation Allies Refuge (OAR)/Operation Allies Welcome (OAW). Now a report from the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concluded the Biden administration’s 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 OIG made two recommendations for DHS to “improve the Department’s screening and vetting of Afghan evacuees and coordination and planning efforts for future similar emergency situations,” but the Biden administration’s DHS rejected them both.
“DHS did not concur with our recommendations and did not provide an action plan to address them or better prepare for similar future events,” the OIG report declared.
The first recommendation: That the Commissioner of CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) immediately identify evacuees from Afghanistan who are in the United States and provide evidence of full screening and vetting based on confirmed identification, as well as to ensure recurrent vetting processes established for all paroled evacuees are carried out for the duration of their parole period.
The second recommendation: That the Secretary of Homeland Security develop a comprehensive contingency plan to support similar emergency situations in the future and account for, screen, vet, and inspect all individuals during unprecedented events when limited biographic data is available.
“We also determined CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection) admitted or paroled evacuees who were not fully vetted into the United States,” the OIG report stated, adding of DHS and CBP, “We found they paroled at least two individuals into the United States who may have posed a risk to national security and the safety of local communities and may have admitted or paroled more individuals of concern.”
After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban on August 15, 2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) evacuated Afghan evacuees to facilities in other countries known as “lily pads” where the evacuees could be vetted before entering the United States. Evacuees who passed both biometric and biographic vetting processes would receive a “green status” clearing them to travel to the United States; individuals with a potential match to derogatory information who could not be cleared, would receive a “red status,” meaning they should not have boarded a plane to the United States.
On Wednesday, when asked about the report, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed, “That very report did not take into account the key steps in that rigorous, you heard from us, rigorous and multi-layered screening and vetting process the U.S. government took before at-risk Afghans were permitted to come to the U.S.”
But the report clearly stated that a multi-layered process was used to vet the evacuees: screening, which entailed examining evacuees through facial images and fingerprints to see if they posed a threat to the U.S.; vetting, which entailed determining whether the evacuee had not derogatory information in U.S. Government databases, and inspecting, which occurred at United States points of entry and entailed comparing facial features of travelers to documents presented. If unresolved issues existed, a secondary inspection was conducted, during which officers conducted interviews and additional research.
If an individual did not clear secondary inspection, they were found to be inadmissible and detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the report stated. If an evacuee cleared inspection at a U.S. POE, they left the airports or went to a military base known as a safe haven to receive additional resettlement assistance, where U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) performed additional security vetting.
In January 2022, the OIG issued DHS a Notice of Findings and Recommendations document “notifying the Department of the urgent need to take action to address security risks of evacuees from Afghanistan who were admitted or paroled into the United States without sufficient identification documents to ensure proper screening and vetting.”
“CBP admitted or paroled evacuees who had questionable names and dates of birth partly due to cultural differences,” the report stated, citing instances where some evacuees did not always know their date of birth, so the official simply entered the evacuee’s biographic data as given by the evacuee.