The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicated that more than 40 Afghans evacuated were deemed potential threats to the United States during the past two weeks of enhanced screening.
Among the tens of thousands of people being screened for resettlement in the United States, 44 Afghan refugees were identified by DHS as security risks to the country and denied entry. Some have already been deported, according to The Washington Post.
Of the 60,000 Afghan evacuees now in the United States, 13 are reportedly held at Customs and Border Protection pending further investigation, including an interview with the FBI and counterterrorism experts.
Another 15 Afghans were sent back to Europe or the Middle East, while 16 Afghans flagged on DHS lists remain at overseas transit sites. They are known as “water lilies,” as they have not yet been cleared for travel.
DHS reports also show that several Afghans were flagged because of suspected connections to terrorists. In some cases, the concern was because of suspicious information found on their phones and electronic devices.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, has declined to state how many Afghans have been banned from traveling or found to have irregularities in their backgrounds, therefore not making it through the vetting process but said the number was minimal.
The Biden administration claims that the screening process for approving the entry of Afghan evacuees is rigorous and involves several phases, and assures that those rescued who are not approved will not be released into the United States.
In this regard, Mayorkas noted that cases in which evacuees have been flagged for additional screening or denied admission to the United States are “an example of the operation of a multi-layered screening process.”
He also noted this week that those Afghan evacuees who are not accepted for entry into the United States, and ordered deported, will not be returned to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and that they will do their best to move them to a third country.
In addition to security concerns, the White House announced Friday that it temporarily suspended flights bringing Afghan refugees into the country due to an outbreak of measles among them.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday during a press briefing, “Operation Allies Welcome’ flights into the United States have been temporarily paused at the request of the [Centers for Disease Control] and out of an abundance of caution because of four diagnosed cases of measles among Afghans who recently arrived in the United States.'”
Meanwhile, a group of Republican lawmakers, in a letter to Biden dated Sept. 2, questioned his administration’s approach to vetting evacuees, claiming that “a hasty and incomplete investigation” was being conducted.
On the other hand, Stewart Baker, a counterterrorism expert who was a top policy advisor to the DHS, said the vetting process is unfamiliar to U.S. security agencies because some of it is done after evacuees have arrived in the country.
For Baker, people who are already in the U.S. probably won’t leave even if they don’t make it through the vetting stages. However, he also asked what will happen to those who are not authorized to travel because they have been identified as “a security problem” and which countries will receive them.