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DHS officials lacked “critical data” when vetting Afghan evacuees, watchdog finds

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) lacked “critical data to properly screen, vet and inspect” Afghan evacuees after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, in keeping with a report issued by the division’s watchdog and obtained by CBS News. 

The 34-page report by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the division granted parole, or non permanent authorized permission to enter and keep within the U.S. to Afghan evacuees who “were not fully vetted” following the large airlift by the U.S. throughout the chaotic final days of the withdrawal of U.S. forces.

“U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) did not always have critical data to properly screen, vet, or inspect the evacuees,” the report by DHS Inspector General Joseph Cuffari mentioned. “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.”

Because of unreliable or inadequate information and the shortage of standardized vetting insurance policies, the watchdog present in its probe, “DHS may have admitted or paroled individuals into the United States who pose a risk to national security and the safety of local communities.” 

While the inspector normal’s office mentioned inner DHS paperwork confirmed that “dozens” of evacuated Afghans with “derogatory information” had been admitted into the U.S. over the previous year, the watchdog confirmed solely two such instances. 

According to the report, DHS admitted an Afghan evacuee who had beforehand been launched from jail by the Taliban. The evacuee was deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after officials realized of the knowledge roughly three weeks after the person’s arrival within the U.S., the report mentioned.

A second Afghan evacuee, the report mentioned, was positioned in deportation proceedings three months following his arrival, after the FBI discovered the person posed “national security concerns.”

The U.S. has granted parole to about 72,550 of the greater than 79,000 Afghan evacuees who arrived within the nation between July 2021 and January 2022, in keeping with DHS information.

The report discovered that DHS lacked essential information when processing and admitting Afghan evacuees, noting the lapses in data primarily stemmed from the distinctive circumstances of the inhabitants on the middle of the resettlement effort.

“CBP admitted or paroled evacuees who had questionable names and dates of birth partly due to cultural differences,” the report learn. “It is customary in Afghanistan for some individuals to have only one name. It is not always part of the Afghan culture to record or know the exact [date of birth]. In Afghanistan, even though national legislation requires registration of children at birth, years of conflict decimated the administrative mechanisms and the social institutions supporting them.”

Officials advised the inspector normal’s office that some Afghan evacuees didn’t know their birthdates, prompting U.S. authorities to pick the primary day of the year they had been born in as their birthday, in keeping with the report. Interpreters or translators had been usually wanted to collect this data, investigators mentioned.

In its response to the draft OIG report, senior DHS management rejected the central premise of the report and its suggestions, noting that the U.S. authorities vetted and inspected all Afghan arrivals at “lily pads,” or abroad army bases, in addition to at U.S. airports. 

“Upon evacuation from Afghanistan and before being cleared to travel to the United States, Afghan nationals were brought to international transit points where the U.S. government collected and reviewed biometric (i.e., facial images and fingerprints) and biographic information (e.g., name, date of birth, identity document information, etc.) on all Afghans between the ages of 14 and 79,” the division wrote in its response. 

According to the division, biometric information of evacuees was in contrast in opposition to “DOD DHS, and FBI repositories” whereas biographic data collected underwent vetting by NCTC, the FBI, and different Intelligence Community companions. 

“Additionally, all Afghans, regardless of age, had their biographic information submitted for flight manifest vetting consistent with standard vetting procedures for all other foreign populations traveling to the United States,” DHS wrote. “Only those Afghan nationals who cleared these comprehensive checks were approved for onward travel to the United States. Those who did not clear these checks remained outside the United States.”

DHS additionally identified in its response that the 2 cases of Afghans who raised safety considerations following parole present that its inter-agency vetting system labored as a result of the people had been taken into custody after derogatory data surfaced. 

Last month, FBI Director Christopher Wray was pressed on the standing of a number of dozen Afghans who had been flagged as potential nationwide safety dangers. Wray indicated that the FBI and its joint terrorism job forces had been “actively” investigating these instances.

“We have a lot of information about where people are located,” Wray advised lawmakers. “I can’t sit here right now and tell you that we know where all are located at any given time.”

After the evacuation, in November 2021, the rating Republican on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, mentioned, “The lack of appropriate screening and vetting of Afghan evacuees by this administration is reminiscent of a pre-9/11 security mindset. Remember, we were at war in Afghanistan for 20 years. We know that ISIS-K and Al Qaeda are operating in Afghanistan. These dynamics in Afghanistan should be reflected by ensuring the normal national security vetting processes are applied to all evacuees.”

The overwhelming majority of Afghan evacuees had been granted parole to enter the U.S. following the mass evacuations final summer season as a result of they’d not but accomplished visa or refugee processing. Parole permits officials to confess immigrants who haven’t got U.S. visas or everlasting standing on pressing humanitarian grounds. For this purpose, Afghan evacuees weren’t required to current passports, visas or journey paperwork to be paroled. 

Parole permits beneficiaries to reside and work within the U.S. legally, however solely on a short lived foundation. But parolees do not need a path to everlasting U.S. residence. As it stands, tens of 1000’s of Afghan evacuees who had been paroled might finally face authorized limbo except they’re granted asylum. 

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress just lately launched laws that will enable these paroled into the U.S. to use for inexperienced playing cards. And one argument that attracted conservative assist for the proposal is that it might allow the U.S. to display screen these evacuees once more due to the required interviews for inexperienced playing cards.

DHS mentioned in a press release Wednesday on the inspector normal’s report that it “does not concur with the two recommendations made in the DHS Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) report regarding Operation Allies Welcome (OAW).” The division additionally strongly disputed the watchdog’s conclusions in regards to the Afghan evacuee vetting.

“Despite the fact that, on multiple occasions, DHS provided the OIG with a comprehensive understanding of the OAW vetting and screening process, the OIG’s report does not accurately characterize that rigorous and multi-layered screening and vetting process, including the critical roles of multiple other federal agencies,” the DHS assertion continued. “Further, the report does not accurately account for the fact that all individuals paroled into the United States as part of OAW are already subject to continuous vetting.”

DHS acknowledged that Afghan and different overseas nationals alike who enter the U.S. should bear recurrent vetting, “to ensure the continued protection of public safety and national security.”

And if derogatory data surfaces after the evacuees entered the U.S., federal regulation enforcement would “take appropriate action, such as opening a criminal investigation, commencing a prosecution, revoking parole, and/or placing the individual in removal proceedings.” 

The division additionally mentioned it might proceed working with federal companions “to continue to support the resettlement of qualifying Afghan nationals in the United States.”

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