We evacuated a horde we can’t vet, but left many deserving Afghans behind

According to reports, the U.S. has evacuated nearly 120,000 people from Afghanistan. Only about 6,000 of them are Americans.

Moreover, it appears that only a small percentage of the non-American evacuees hold the special immigrant visa given to Afghans employed by, or on behalf of, the U.S. government. Representative Tom Tiffany (R., Wis.) says that of the 2,000 Afghans housed at a base in his state, not one has that visa. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reports that according to U.S. officials, a majority of interpreters and other U.S. visa applicants were left behind in Afghanistan.

Thus, we evacuated an enormous number of people who didn’t receive, or even seek, the special visa for interpreters and others who materially assisted us in Afghanistan. How do we vet these people?

The short answer is that we can’t — not in any meaningful way. Mark Krikorian explains why:

Given Afghanistan’s low level of development, it’s not like the record-keeping there was ever comprehensive and efficient, if it existed at all. And worse, as 30-year INS/ICE veteran Dan Cadman pointed out on my “Parsing Immigration Policy” podcast last week, while we occupied Afghanistan, we at least had a chance of verifying claims that people made. Now that we have left and a hostile force is in charge, what are supposed to do, call up the Kabul DMV to verify someone’s identity?

Even under the best of circumstances, vetting can never be perfect. . .But under today’s conditions, meaningful vetting of Afghans is literally impossible.

Krikorian also points out that even if we happen to obtain incriminating information on particular refugees, we don’t have much choice other than to let them resettle in the U.S. We can’t send them back to Afghanistan and no other country is likely to accept them.

Thus, says Krikorian:

Every Afghan we extracted from Kabul will be able to live here for the rest of his life. This is true even if the Afghan refugee commits crimes after his arrival. In the 2001 case of Zadvydas v. Davis, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that deportable aliens (such as criminals who’ve completed their state prison sentences) cannot be held more than six months by ICE if their home country refuses to take them back.

The only meaningful vetting of Afghans is that conducted in connection with the special immigrant visa application process. Does this mean we should only have evacuated those who received that visa, along with their family members?

Probably so. And done properly, that would have amounted to a huge number of evacuees.

But the problem with this approach is that Biden administration couldn’t get its act together when it came to processing and awarding special immigrant visas. Thus, evacuating only those with visas would have meant leaving behind many who should have had them.

In late June, the Washington Post’s editors complained about the gross inadequacy of the special immigrant visa processing:

The special immigrant visas (SIV) have been plagued by delays and carry strict requirements that have left applicants waiting years for approval. According to the International Refugee Assistance Project, about 18,000 Afghan interpreters and others are in the pipeline.

The total SIV program cap is currently 26,500 visas, of which, as of December, 15,507 had been issued and 10,993 remained. If families are included at an estimated rate of four per visa, the total number of people needing processing could be closer to 70,000.

After the Post complained, the administration reportedly tried to respond by evacuating some special visa applicants to a third country where they would await final processing of their applications. But that effort was inadequate. Indeed, as U.S. officials concede, most of the interpreters, etc. remain in Afghanistan even after this week’s evacuation.

The upshot is that, because of the Biden administration’s incompetence and/or indifference in processing special visa applications, the U.S. could only use that process to make sure all of the people we evacuated were meaningfully vetted if we refused to evacuate many of the interpreters, etc. If we had required a visa to get out, we would have left behind a large number of those who risked their lives to help us fight the war.

As it turned out, we end up accomplishing neither goal. We have left a majority of the interpreters behind while letting approximately 100,000 people we haven’t vetted and, as a practical matter can’t truly vet, into our population.

Some good will come from resettling all of these people in the U.S., but there are sure to be adverse consequences, as well. We can only pray that the adverse consequences won’t be severe, because our government stands virtually helpless when it comes to minimizing that risk.

NOTE: According to this report, when, in the desperate final days, the U.S. provided credentials electronically to interpreters it wanted to evacuate, the credential was immediately disseminated widely, so that it was no longer “a viable credential,” i.e. a reliable way of determining whom to evacuate.

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