Two Years After Botched Withdrawal, The Biden Administration Has Yet to Properly Vet 88,000 Afghan Refugees

Afghan refugee camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar / Getty Images
May 1, 2023

The Biden administration has yet to properly vet over 88,000 Afghan refugees who were resettled in the United States after its botched military withdrawal, which lawmakers say raises "serious national security concerns for the state of U.S. homeland security."

The Department of Homeland Security "encountered obstacles to screen, vet, and inspect all evacuees" arriving stateside after the rushed 2021 evacuation that killed 13 American servicemen, House Homeland Security Committee chair Mark Green (R., Tenn.) and subcommittee chairs August Pfluger (R., Texas), Dan Bishop (R., N.C.), and Clay Higgins (R., La.) said Monday in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

The pair further notes that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection also "lacked critical data to properly vet evacuees" but nonetheless admitted thousands of Afghan refugees who landed in America without passports or basic identifying information.

"Not only did the Biden administration’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan threaten our allies in the region by allowing the Taliban to return the country to a terrorist breeding ground," Green told the Free Beacon, "but the failure of DHS to properly vet or screen all Afghan nationals during the evacuation has put the U.S. homeland and our security interests at great risk."

While many Republicans in Congress have focused on the bungled evacuation itself, the vetting deficiencies remain one of the most active and pressing national security concerns, particularly since these Afghan refugees are already situated inside the United States.

Green and Pfluger are demanding the Biden administration hand over a trove of documents, including classified information, as part of the House GOP’s larger investigation into the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan. The pair notes that lawmakers still lack a full understanding of what went wrong with the withdrawal because Homeland Security "has stonewalled requests from committee members for information" from the outset.

Homeland Security—like the State Department and other agencies—has been blocking investigations into Afghanistan since late 2021. A litany of document requests and other investigatory efforts "remain either wholly unsatisfied or insufficiently satisfied," according to the letter. "President Biden and his administration must be held accountable, and we will ensure its compliance with the Committee’s serious requests."

The failure to produce these documents could result in a subpoena, a primary vehicle for Congress to force the Biden administration to comply with its investigations. The House Foreign Affairs Committee hit Secretary of State Antony Blinken with a subpoena in late March for his failure to disclose classified information believed to show that American officials knew the Taliban would rise to power soon after the withdrawal.

The Homeland Security Committee wants Homeland Security to provide all internal communications about Afghanistan from January 1, 2021, to the present. This includes "all documents and communications between or among employees of DHS referring or relating to CBP’s screening, vetting, or inspection of Afghan evacuees," according to the letter.

It became clear soon after the withdrawal that the Biden administration knew it could not handle the influx of refugees but still ordered the military to fill planes to "excess" with unvetted individuals, according to an internal August 16th, 2021, directive that leaked to Congress.

"Total inflow to the U.S. must exceed the number of seats available. Err on the side of excess," the order stated, according to Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.).

Lawmakers were also informed during a classified December 2021 briefing that "not all security and vetting measures have been taken to ensure the safety of our homeland," the Free Beacon reported. "It is beyond unacceptable that several months after President Biden's disastrous and deadly withdrawal we still do not have … a full account of the Afghans who were evacuated to the U.S.," Hawley and other lawmakers said at the time.

The Homeland Security Committee’s investigation comes just weeks after former U.S. defense and counterterrorism officials told Congress that Afghanistan "is once again a terrorist safe haven" under Taliban rule. Officials are particularly concerned that DHS and other intelligence agencies no longer have vetting networks in place that could thwart a future terrorist attack.