Before diving head-first into the cold and murky water that is Afghan refugee resettlement, two irrefutable truths should be acknowledged. First, the U.S. exists to serve and protect its citizens. Other considerations, whatever they may be, come in at a distant second. As such, President Biden must prioritize the evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan. Second, the federal government cannot, over the last half-century, point to a single immigration program or strategy that has, from its citizens’ perspective, been properly managed or enhanced their lives.
Given those important and indisputable realities, only the naïve could expect the Biden administration to efficiently oversee Afghan migrant resettlement. Still, the burning question in Washington right now is: what to do about the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees searching for safe haven in their preferred destination-which is, as it always is among the world’s refugees, America.
In 2019, former President Trump signed an executive order that granted states and local jurisdictions the authority to refuse refugees. But in February 2021, President Biden, as he did with most of President Trump’s immigration executive orders, rescinded it and ordered the State Department to allocate $500 million more toward resettlement. As expected then, on Capitol Hill and in some states’ capitals, enthusiasm to accept large refugee numbers is high.
Congressional Democrats are solidly behind speedy resettlement, the exact total as yet undetermined, but possibly as many as 300,000. Also on board with congressional Democrats are the Republican governors of ten states: South Carolina, Massachusetts, Maryland, Utah, Georgia, Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Vermont, and Oklahoma. Maryland’s Larry Hogan expressed the governor’s collective viewpoint: resettlement is “the least we can do.”
To date, the residents of these ten states have not been asked for their input even though the inevitable population increase in their communities will dramatically affect local schools, hospitals, and other local services. The remaining 40 states that may be less enthusiastic or against receiving Afghan refugees will also have no say about their fate.
HOW WILL AFGHAN REFUGEES BE VETTED?
Most of the Afghans to be admitted will be fast-tracked Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) designated for interpreters and their family members, as well as others who assisted the U.S. military during the 20-year fiasco. The State Department also created the P-2 visa designated for Afghans ineligible for SIVs, but who claim to have worked closely with U.S. military contractors. The P-2 category will include clerks, receptionists, drivers, construction workers, food servers, and sundry others, including those who worked for private companies that provided contract services to the government. Their families will accompany the P-2s, and thus add thousands more to the incoming population. (In 2012, Afghan women averaged 6.6 children; today, Afghanistan still reports high fertility rates-among the top 15 in the world. Additionally, under Islamic law, men are permitted as many as four wives.)
National security concerns should require that even translators must submit to rigorous vetting.
Yet, despite the outcry for resettlement, nothing specific has been put forward in terms of how several hundred thousand Afghan refugees will be vetted, especially if they fall into the vague and potentially all-inclusive P-2 classification. Vetting will be a challenging task given that the U.S. embassy has been evacuated, is now Taliban-controlled, and official documents are, if not inaccessible, destroyed. Remember former FBI Director James Comey’s 2015 warning to the House Homeland Security Committee about Syrian refugees: “We can only query against that which we have collected, and so if someone has never made a ripple in the pond in Syria in a way that would get their identity or their interests reflected in our database, we can query our database until the cows come home, but there’ll be nothing [that] show[s] up, because we have no record on that person.”
Although both sides of the aisle agree that Afghan interpreters merit prompt resettlement, national security concerns should require that even translators must submit to rigorous vetting. Decorated combat veteran and U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell spent 485 days in Afghanistan, and recounted his experience on FOX last week. He describes how an Afghanistan translator he trusted and who had traveled with his platoon “every step of the way” had been secretly plotting with Iranian terrorists to murder Americans. The translator helped plant a mine that, when it exploded, injured four and killed one of Parnell’s soldiers.
A popular but specious advocacy argument made on behalf of resettling the maximum numbers of Afghan nationals is that the federal government, having conclusively failed to fend off the Taliban, owes a debt to the war-torn country best repaid through U.S. resettlement in the U.S. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham insists that the U.S. is duty and honor-bound to expedite Afghans’ safe removal. But the reality is that the so-called debt has been-and is still being-steadily repaid. Since 2001, the U.S. has resettled more than 94,000 Afghans here. Those numbers likely will grow significantly within the coming months.
Germany’s experience with mass resettlement could provide President Biden some important insights, assuming he’s willing to contemplate what occurred when advocates swayed Chancellor Angela Merkel to accept mostly unvetted Syrians. Merkel’s humanitarian relief mission anticipated 450,000 migrants, an estimate that quickly swelled to 800,000. In 2015 and 2016, more than 1 million migrants applied for asylum. Also migrating into Western Europe were thousands of citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo.
Shortly after their arrival, Germany, faced with a wave of criminal activity ranging from petty crime to sexual assaults, sought to deport the criminally convicted back to their home countries. But because the foreign nationals were improperly vetted to begin with, removal proved difficult to achieve. One significant vetting flaw was widespread documentation falsification, including passports, facilitated by the criminal smuggling networks industries that aided the migrants’ entry. Crimes perpetrated in the EU by inadequately vetted migrants are still a concern. The 2021 EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report found that five terrorist attacks on the mainland had been orchestrated by individuals who had “entered the EU as asylum seekers or irregular migrants.”
DO NO HARM
Abundant evidence exists that points to the federal government’s inability to manage immigration in a way that benefits rather than harms its citizens. Examine, for example, the fallout from the 2014 Iraq SIV program. To reiterate, fair-minded Americans want to help allies who have supported the U.S. in the extended Afghan War. But citizens don’t-and shouldn’t-want the Afghan SIV to devolve into the fraud-ridden Iraqi SIV program. Two months ago, Reuters reported that 4,000 Iraqis are suspected of filing fraudulent resettlement applications. The State Department is re-examining 40,000 cases that involve more than 104,000 people, 95% of them still in Iraq, and it has frozen those applications until further notice. More than 500 already-admitted Iraqi refugees have been implicated in the fraud and could be deported or stripped of their U.S. citizenship.
Before the Biden Administration in 2021, there are many past examples of immigration legislation that betrayed citizens.
When it learned that foreign nationals from Russia, Iraq, and Jordan stole from the State Department’s database files-refugee applicants’ employment records, security checks, military history, and their personal persecution accounts-all breached by the infiltrators, the Department of Justice suspended the Iraqi SIV program. Prosecutors said that Iraqis could duplicate stolen information to gain visa approvals that they would otherwise have been denied and, in the process, may also have pushed deserving refugees out of the queue.
When he learned about the fraud, Michael R. Sherwin, then-acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, said, “It is important to hold accountable those who would seek to defraud such programs [Iraqi SIV], particularly when the crimes compromise our national security and public safety, when they impose such high costs on taxpayers ”
Of course, nothing more glaringly points to Congress’s enduring inability during the last 55 years to pass immigration legislation that helps rather than harms citizens than the continuing open Southwest border crisis. An estimated 2 million illegal migrants will enter the country this year, and be released into the interior. Once part of the general population, the illegal immigrants will be here to stay. Since President Biden gutted Immigration and Customs Enforcement into a shadow of the agency it was under Trump, migrants that entered unlawfully have scant chance of removal.
Before the Biden Administration in 2021, there are many past examples of immigration legislation that betrayed citizens. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy’s Immigration Act of 1990 created numerous temporary work-based visas-H-1Bs, H-2As, H-2Bs-that displaced or denied jobs for Americans who toiled in most Bureau of Labor Statistics low and high-skilled classifications. Step back further to the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which would, enthusiastic congressional signatories insisted, end illegal immigration forever. Enforcement provisions were ignored, but the path to amnesty began immediately. Today, 35 years later, no one knows what the illegal immigration population is, but estimates range up to 30 million.
Federal immigration policies have long involved inflated or manufactured promises meant to pacify the concerns of American citizens, all while directly undermining their stated interest and desires. Prior to IRCA, for instance, sponsors of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 (INA) falsely claimed that upon its passage, the U.S. demographic mix would remain essentially unchanged. “This bill that we will sign today is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions,” President Lyndon Johnson said at the signing ceremony. “It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives or add importantly to either our wealth or our power.” Instead, the INA ushered in the largest multinational immigration wave in history.
None of the above argues against accepting refugees, but should be interpreted as a cautionary tale that draws its lessons from history. Past immigration flops needn’t be precursors to future failures. During the Afghanistan crisis, President Biden and his advisors need to establish a manageable migrant inflow, and locate the new arrivals in regions that have space to provide for them. If the administration follows reasonable guidelines which would help avoid backlash from immigration skeptics, the nation can maintain its long-standing, deserved reputation as welcoming to refugees.
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