As a pool of potential refugees grows, “there is always concern that a terrorist organization could take advantage of a mass displacement of people,” Senate Intelligence Committee Vice President Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said in a brief interview. I don’t know how that gets better by not providing funding for it.”
The House-approved financing bill includes $6.3 billion in emergency spending to help Afghans seeking asylum in the US. It will grind to a halt in the Senate as Democrats work to avoid a government shutdown later this month, raise the federal borrowing limit and fund disaster recovery efforts. Although Republicans opposed the financing bill regardless of its provisions on resettlement of Afghan refugees, they still view Afghanistan’s rocky withdrawal as a winning issue and want to use the stumbling blocks to raise questions about whether resettled allies are properly could be vetted given the chaos of the US military withdrawal.
Yet some of that coverage is undermined by echoes of xenophobia from Republicans who suggest Afghan refugees should settle in countries where they can be with people who share similar values.
“I have argued that we should try to establish these individuals in other countries around Afghanistan who share their values and culture, especially if we cannot provide a proper vetting,” freshman Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.) tweeted last week in response to the resettlement of 75 Afghan refugees in his home state. He gave no details about their status.
In an interview Tuesday, Rosendale doubled down when asked about the criticism thrown his way.
“This is nothing more than people’s attempt to silence me. I will not be silenced,” Rosendale said. “It would be better for these people to settle in countries around them – Uzbekistan, Tajikistan – where they share their culture where they share the religion, and everyone involved would be happier.”
Montana’s GOP senator, Steve Daines, implicitly pushed back, noting that Afghans fighting alongside US troops have already been thoroughly screened.
“They are fully vetted refugees who have played an important role in helping US forces in Afghanistan,” Daines said in a brief interview, adding that “these are refugees who love America… and it is our duty to make sure they get a way out of the Taliban.”
Ironically, Republicans have received unintended political cover for their Afghan refugee strategy from Democrats, many of whom have already criticized the Biden administration for the fatal upheaval of the US withdrawal.
For example, the State Department has already acknowledged that most applicants for special immigrant visas in Afghanistan were left behind when tens of thousands of Afghans were airlifted out of the country last month as part of a mass evacuation operation in Kabul. That’s the population of high-risk Afghans who served as translators and interpreters during the two-decade war effort, often at serious personal risk.
The distinction between SIV applicants and non-SIV Afghans has animated GOP criticism.
“The more we dig into this, the more we begin to see that it appears that the Biden administration just loaded these planes with many that were not vetted. In fact, a very small percentage – maybe a few digits – had SIVs,” Daines added. “And that’s a huge problem.”
At a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas was unable to provide a precise breakdown of the 124,000 people evacuated from Afghanistan. Government officials have said they are still trying to determine who fits into which category — be they US citizens, legal permanent residents, SIV applicants or other groups of asylum seekers.
Despite the bipartisan criticism of the Biden team’s approach in Afghanistan, and a precedent for poor vetting procedures that caused refugee resettlement headaches for previous administrations, some Republicans have further perfected their criticisms. A powerful House GOP group recently suggested that not only is the Biden government not to be trusted to investigate Afghan refugees not in the SIV program, but the Biden government was looking for a back door for Afghans to obtain US citizenship. to gain.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee, made that argument last week as Afghan refugee aid moved closer to a vote. However, the RSC’s initial warnings about Democrats offering refugees a chance to gain legal status through the bank do not appear to have been incorporated into the text of the House-approved financing bill.
For example, a memo circulated by the RSC last week states that the White House requested language that gives the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to designate Afghan refugees as legal permanent residents, adding that it is “a fast track to citizenship.” would offer”.
But the Finance Act explicitly states that “nothing in this Act shall be construed to entitle an individual to lawful permanent resident status.”
Banks, for his part, argues that the House Financing Bill “still provides a back door to citizenship that I have no doubt Democrats plan to use” to help Afghan refugees — though he didn’t specify how the finance law would allow it. .
“And it doesn’t change the fact that the [funding bill] continues to set open borders with Taliban-run Afghanistan, allowing anyone coming from Afghanistan to receive social benefits and driver’s licenses,” Banks added in a statement. “Conservatives won’t let them pull us in too fast.”
The Biden administration has repeatedly reversed claims that non-SIV Afghan refugees are under-screened prior to their arrival, providing details on the level of advanced security screening and confirming that a significant number of refugees undergo an additional layer in a third country. “Anyone arriving in the United States will have a background check,” the president said last month.
Some Republicans are quietly concerned that their party’s hardliners are undermining their efforts to hold Biden and his national security team responsible for an evacuation operation that left thousands of vulnerable Afghans behind. In addition, all but 16 House Republicans voted in favor of a bipartisan bill that would raise the refugee ceiling for vulnerable Afghans and eliminate some steps in the exhaustive vetting process to speed up approvals during the US withdrawal.
The effort, which all Democrats backed, gave the GOP another chance to criticize the Biden government’s military withdrawal as ill-planned, with lawmakers from both sides arguing that the US-led evacuations from Afghanistan should have started months earlier.
“If the withdrawal had been handled competently, I don’t think there would be such serious concerns about who was in the country and the vetting procedures,” said Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), a Navy veteran. “But if the government is willing to leave American citizens behind Afghanistan, what confidence do I have that they can set up a competent vetting process?”
GOP calls to limit refugee resettlement undeniably complicate that message.
“There are probably 20,000 more people in Afghanistan who have the right to get out that we haven’t been given and hope to get out. Those people should be easy to identify,” said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Caliph.). “But it’s the other 70,000 who just say, ‘I’m being killed by the Taliban.’ They all have stories, and they investigate [people] can be very difficult.”