Kabuki Vetting of Afghans

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Evacuees wait to board a Boeing C-17 Globemaster III during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, August 23, 2021.
(U.S. Marine Corps/Sergeant Isaiah Campbell/Handout via Reuters)

We’ve heard a lot about how the Afghans evacuated from Kabul are being thoroughly vetted in third countries, often while held at American bases, before being let into the U.S. Politico, for instance, writes that:

A senior administration official said Afghans “undergo robust security” that includes “biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock” to vet Afghans before they’re allowed in the United States.

This is true.

It’s also irrelevant.

The irrelevance of the vetting process is twofold. First, vetting is only as good as the information you have to vet people against. I have little doubt that the DHS employees and others who are doing the vetting are dedicated public servants, genuinely trying their best. And those Afghans (though not necessarily their family members) who were previously employed by our military or embassy were vetted before employment, and periodically during employment, too. Even this isn’t foolproof; former Army platoon leader (and current Senate candidate) Sean Parnell told Tucker Carlson of his unit’s extensively vetted Afghan interpreter who ended up betraying his American comrades. But to the degree it’s possible to vet someone in Afghanistan, these former U.S. government employees have been vetted.

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But the evacuation from Kabul was so haphazard and rushed that many, perhaps most, of those extracted were not such previously screened people. Representative Tom Tiffany (R., Wis.) told the Washington Times that of the 2,000 Afghans housed at a base in his state, not one had the Special Immigrant Visa for Afghans employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government. And at least one previously deported convicted rapist appears to have landed at Dulles already.

So, how to screen those Afghans who’ve never been screened? Given Afghanistan’s low level of development, it’s not like the record-keeping there was ever comprehensive and efficient, if it existed at all. And worse, as 30-year INS/ICE veteran Dan Cadman pointed out on my “Parsing Immigration Policy” podcast last week, while we occupied Afghanistan, we at least had a chance of verifying claims that people made. Now that we have left and a hostile force is in charge, what are supposed to do, call up the Kabul DMV to verify someone’s identity? Even under the best of circumstances, vetting can never be perfect; to borrow from Queen Elizabeth I, we can’t open windows into men’s souls. But under today’s conditions, meaningful vetting of Afghans is literally impossible.

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The second problem is perhaps worse. Suppose we do somehow stumble upon incriminating information in the process of vetting, information that suggests an Afghan evacuee is a security threat or inadmissible for some other reason – what then?

We can’t deport them back to Afghanistan.

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We can’t release them in Qatar or Bahrain or wherever we’re holding them; those countries only agreed to temporarily host the Afghans we flew in and certainly would not agree to take a potential threat off our hands.

Conclusion: We’re just going to resettle them in the U.S. regardless of the results of vetting.

The whole notion of holding Afghans offshore until they’re vetted is a charade. Those who don’t have a Special Immigrant Visa are simply being “paroled” into the U.S. Immigration parole is a work-around whereby the executive can temporarily let in visa-less foreigners for humanitarian reasons. But like so much else in our dishonest immigration system, “temporary” in this case means permanent. Every Afghan we extracted from Kabul will be able to live here for the rest of his life.

This is true even if the Afghan refugee commits crimes after his arrival. In the 2001 case of Zadvydas v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that deportable aliens (such as criminals who’ve completed their state prison sentences) cannot be held more than six months by ICE if their home country refuses to take them back. Five people paid for this policy with their lives when a Vietnamese criminal named Binh Thai Luc, who had been released after serving a prison sentence in California because Vietnam wouldn’t take back anyone who came before 1995, murdered a family in San Francisco. It will be some time before a similar incident occurs with an Afghan refugee, but you can count on its happening.

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There is no connection between the vetting of Afghans and their admission to the United States. The moment the doors of a C-17 closed on the tarmac in Kabul, every Afghan on board, regardless of background or possible security threat, became a de facto permanent resident of the U.S. Anyone telling you otherwise is misinformed or mendacious.

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