Biden administration must create solid vetting process for Afghan evacuees, says Ernst

Sen. Joni Ernst

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) this week led 15 of her Republican Senate colleagues in calling the Biden administration’s security vetting procedures to clear Afghans entering the United States “unclear and incomplete,” causing a threat to homeland safety.

“We urge that you pause relocating any more Afghan evacuees to the United States, except for fully-vetted Afghans holding Special Immigration Visas [SIVs], and complete all appropriate vetting procedures at safe locations abroad,” wrote Sen. Ernst and her colleagues in an Oct. 4 letter sent to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

According to their letter, many Afghans currently housed on U.S. military bases are general refugees, not vetted and trusted applicants admitted under the SIV program. And a number of Afghan evacuees have already been flagged for terrorist ties after entry into the U.S.

At the same time, the lack of preparation for such a large-scale evacuation “has significantly strained the U.S. military’s capacity to effectively house, feed, clean, and keep the peace on the eight installations housing thousands of Afghan evacuees, where the conditions are dangerous,” they wrote. 

“Reports of measles outbreaks across Afghan encampments on U.S. military installations are generating significant health risks to all Afghans on-base and the military service members interacting with Afghans,” Sen. Ernst and her colleagues wrote. “The vetting process must ensure the security, medical, and criminal screening of each Afghan seeking admittance into the United States.”

The lawmakers also asked the secretaries to pause resettlement of Afghans already paroled into the U.S. until the Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General verifies that DOD is appropriately managing and tracking evacuees through the biometrics enrollment, screening and vetting process, according to their letter. 

Among the lawmakers who joined Sen. Ernst in signing the letter were U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis (R-NC), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Rob Portman (R-OH), and John Hoeven (R-ND), who told the secretaries that without developing a sufficient plan and follow-on brief, they “cannot in good conscience support or express any confidence in the Biden administration’s capacity or will to keep Americans safe, maintain trust with tried-and-true Afghan partners, or humanely aid vetted Afghan evacuees.”