Afghan evacuee vetting process 'fragmented' with 'vulnerabilities,' watchdog warns

A report from the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is faulting the government’s parole processes surrounding the resettling of tens of thousands of Afghan evacuees after the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“DHS has a multifaceted but fragmented process for identifying and resolving issues for noncitizens with derogatory information, including [Operation Allies Welcome] parolees. This siloed approach creates potential gaps in DHS components’ responsibility for terminating parole, initiating removal proceedings, or monitoring parole expiration,” the DHS Office of Inspector General [OIG] report says.

Of the 97,000 evacuees who came to the U.S. in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, 79% (about 77,000) were granted humanitarian parole into the United States for two years. Parole is a congressionally granted authority that allows the government to permit entry to noncitizens for either urgent humanitarian reasons or significant public benefit.

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Foreigners board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

During that parole process, Afghans were screened, vetted and inspected by federal agencies, including a review of any derogatory information that may ultimately lead to a rejection of parole – whether it be national security concerns, criminal convictions or something else.

But the report found that the three main DHS components – Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – have “separate but interconnected processes for identifying and resolving derogatory information for OAW parolees.

“We found vulnerabilities in the USCIS and ICE processes for resolving derogatory information,” the report said.

Specifically, it found an enforcement gap for when parolees are denied benefits, where inadmissibility for benefits does not lead to removal proceedings. It also found criteria that did not align between agencies, with changes to enforcement priorities that may result in different thresholds for action.

Nearly 100,000 Afghans were brought to the U.S. in the wake of the withdrawal. (Greg Palkot)

It also found a “complex” process for returning OAW parolees to Afghanistan that depends on a third-party country. Without the cooperation of that country, the United Arab Emirates, the ability to deport Afghans would be in jeopardy, “likely causing significant delays in an already complex process.”

Additionally, the OIG found that DHS did not have a process for monitoring the expiration of the two-year parole period and guidelines for determining “re-parole” for parolees are “undefined.”

“CBP, USCIS, and ICE officials uniformly believed this was not their responsibility,” the report said.

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“Although CBP granted the original humanitarian parole for evacuees during OAW, CBP officials told us that once they paroled an OAW evacuee, USCIS and ICE would monitor the parole status of individual parolees. However, both USCIS and ICE officials confirmed they are not monitoring the end of parole for individual OAW parolees,” the report said.

The OIG recommended USCIS develop guidelines on terminating parole and making referrals to ICE. Other recommendations include reviews of records, clarity of DHS responsibility for parole reauthorization, and guidelines for how to deal with derogatory information.

Afghan national with terror ties in federal custody after being released twice at border Video

In a response to the report, DHS concurred with the recommendations but defended its approach to resettling Afghans.

“During this unprecedented whole-of-government effort, the United States government facilitated the relocation of Afghans whose lives were at risk, while prioritizing the maintenance of the national security and public safety of the United States,” it said.

However, it said the OIG’s report “includes information that does not sufficiently describe the Department’s policies and processes for identifying and resolving derogatory information” for parolees.

It pointed to what it says are inadequacies in the report, including that the USCIS manual already includes guidelines on parole termination, and that DHS already has access to information regarding parole expiration.

It is the latest report to draw an issue with the vetting process. A Pentagon inspector general report issued in 2022 found that officials identified at least 50 Afghan evacuees who were brought to the United States in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan whose information indicated “potentially significant security concerns” – and were unable to locate dozens of those who it said had derogatory information that would make them ineligible for parole.

Fox News’ Bill Melugin contributed to this report.

Adam Shaw is a politics reporter for Fox News Digital, primarily covering immigration and border security.

He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.

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