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Afghan refugees are fully vetted before entering the United States, DHS Secretary says

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas participates in a virtual conference Feb. 23, 2021. (Department of Homeland Security/Released)

 The 37,000 refugees coming to the United States from Afghanistan – including 855 bound for Ohio – are undergoing a “multi-layered screening and vetting process” that include background checks and biometric data to ensure they qualify for entry, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told reporters on Friday.

He said roughly 400 employees of federal agencies that include Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Transportation Security Administration, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Secret Service have been deployed to Bahrain, Germany, Kuwait, Italy, Qatar, Spain and the United Arab Emirates to help screen those coming into the United States. Immigrants who don’t pass the overseas screenings aren’t allowed to board flights to the United States.

He said his agency is admitting vulnerable Afghans to the United States “in a way that’s consistent with our laws and our values” and described the airlift as “historic.”

“This mission really does reflect the best of who we are as a country,” said Mayorkas.

Mayorkas said the United States is still working to return all American citizens and lawful permanent residents of the United States who want to leave and has mounted “an all-of-government effort” to return them. He did not provide an estimate of how many of them remain in Afghanistan.

The 855 immigrants heading to Ohio are coming through the State Department’s Afghan Placement and Assistance Program. Eight Ohio resettlement agencies are handling placements. They include International Institute of Akron, which will accept 150 refugees; Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services in Cleveland, which is taking 100; U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Cleveland, which will handle 100; and US Together in Cleveland, which will handle 85.

“These are individuals who have been partners with United States and deserve our support in return for the support they’ve given us,” said a statement that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine released last week. “Thank you to the resettlement agencies and communities who have stepped forward and demonstrated they have the resources necessary to help these individuals in their time of need.”

An administration official said that to determine where Afghans will be located, the State Department works with nine resettlement agencies and their more than 200 affiliates across the country. State refugee coordinators also have input on capacity projections. The resettlement agencies identify where the Afghans will move to from safe havens at military bases. They discuss options with the refugees themselves who might want to relocate somewhere they’ve got family or that already has a large Afghan-American community.

Former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, who Biden appointed to coordinate Afghan resettlement efforts in the United States. said there’s been “an incredible outpouring of support” all over the United States from veterans, bipartisan political leaders, and Afghan Americans.

“The response from across the country has been overwhelming,” Markell said. “We’ve seen that Americans are proud of so many Afghans who have supported us over the past 20 years in Afghanistan, and believe that they deserve our support in return.”

Markell said that many people who lack Special Immigrant Visas deserve them but missed deadlines. He cited the example of an Afghan refugee he met at a U.S. military base in Virginia who would have qualified for a visa because he worked with the United States for more than five years. The refugee initially didn’t seek a visa because he thought he wouldn’t have to leave his country, but he had to flee quickly after it became too dangerous for him to stay.

“There’s just an incredible number of stories like that,” Markell told reporters.


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