Thanks in part to an epic foreign policy blunder by the Biden administration, Afghan nationals have been forced to flee the brutal rule of the Taliban, spurring another humanitarian disaster primed to exacerbate an already record-breaking border crisis, not to mention jeopardizing our country’s national security.
The unfolding turmoil from the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan has provoked elected officials and political commentators to urge the Biden administration to allow thousands of Afghan nationals to enter the United States unchecked. In response to the botched withdrawal, the Biden administration is contemplating bringing as many as 50,000 unvetted Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and refugees into the country. While the United States undoubtedly has an obligation to help our Afghan allies, it is to nobody’s benefit to resettle individuals who have not been properly vetted into the United States, especially given the history of fraud and abuse in both our SIV and refugee programs.
According to a June 2020 report by the State Department’s Inspector General, many SIV applications were rife with fraud. The same report also revealed the State Department does not rely on official documentation and databases to administer background checks on SIV applicants, which means that terrorists or other nefarious actors could enter the United States through the SIV program with fraudulent information.
In addition, many Afghan military service members have been shown to harbor ties to the Taliban or other terrorist organizations. Between 2007 and 2012, there were 71 documented “green-on-blue” attacks – 25% of which the Taliban claimed responsibility for. Green-on-blue occurrences are surprise attacks orchestrated by Afghan allies, who turn around and betray allied forces. A 2018 investigation found that Afghan service members often receive little to no vetting, and those who fail their background checks are rarely removed from their units.
In 2006, Congress created the SIV category, which permits legal permanent residence to select Afghan and Iraqi nationals employed by the U.S. Government or armed forces as interpreters, translators and other positions. The immediate family members of these visa holders are also eligible for an SIV. While the visa program is intended to help our allies who aided us with the War on Terror, it should not be used to allow thousands of unvetted foreign nationals from a terror-prone country into the U.S.
Unfortunately, fraud and corruption also run rampant in our refugee resettlement program. According to a seven-month investigation into the United Nations (U.N.) refugee agency, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees staffers accepted bribes in exchange for providing referrals to Western countries. This is highly problematic as it makes it impossible to know whether the refugees are legitimately fleeing persecution or if they are economic migrants trying to game the system.
Additionally, recent State Department reports from earlier this year outlined that around 4,000 Iraqi nationals are suspected of filing fraudulent applications for the “Direct Access” refugee program for U.S.-affiliated Iraqis. This led U.S. authorities to suspend the program indefinitely while they re-examine more than 104,000 other refugee cases. According to the indictment, three foreign nationals were charged with money laundering, fraud and records theft after allegedly stealing information from a government processing system that was then used to help applicants fraudulently gain admission into the U.S. It is even more difficult to properly vet refugee applicants from Afghanistan so, unless our vetting systems are revamped, it is extremely likely that fraud will be an even bigger problem for refugee applicants from the country.
Using a flawed system to push mass resettlement puts our national security at risk. According to a 2013 poll from Pew Research, 99% of Afghan Muslims support Sharia Law, while 39% said suicide bombings are sometimes/often justified. These startling numbers make it all the more troubling that President Joe Biden is admitting individuals into the country without the proper vetting procedures in place.
It is imperative the Biden administration contemplate a safer and more coherent strategy to resettle Afghans. Given the national security implications, all refugees and potential SIV applicants should be brought to nearby third countries for proper vetting before admittance into the United States. It is also much more practical given the shared culture and customs, not to mention that more refugees can be resettled at a fraction of the cost. Moreover, there is no reason to resettle every refugee into the U.S. Neighboring nations in Central Asia could resettle refugees in their respective countries, which would allow Afghans to remain close to home to eventually return and improve conditions.
Trying to rewrite past foreign policy mistakes by importing thousands of individuals without proper vetting in place is the perfect recipe for a national security disaster. It is in the best interest of everybody involved to pursue a policy that protects the interests of American citizens while also promoting regional stability.
Jason Peña and Tommy Aramony are researchers at Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) in Washington D.C.