EXCLUSIVE: Tennessee Republicans are raising concerns over the Biden administration’s efforts to resettle Afghan refugees in the state, demanding answers from Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas about how the hundreds of individuals will be vetted before allowing entry with parole into the U.S.
Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., joined by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday penned a letter to Mayorkas, obtained by Fox News, questioning the process in order to maintain “transparency” with their constituents.
“Due to the Biden administration’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, we maintain concerns regarding strange Americans as well as the plan for refugee resettlement,” they wrote.
Blackburn, Hagerty and Lee went on to lay out a number of questions, including what steps the administration is taking to assist U.S. citizens and Afghan allies “left behind” in Afghanistan.
Last month, Lee announced that a possible 415 Afghan refugees would be heading to the Nashville area and would begin working with resettlement agencies.
“Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan put terrorists in control and left Americans, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders and applicants, and allies stranded,” Blackburn told Fox News.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., speaks during the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Texas Unconstitutional Abortion Ban and the Role of the Shadow Docket" in the Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C., Sept. 29, 2021. (Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS)
(Tom Williams/Pool via REUTERS)
“A very small percentage of Afghans evacuated have proven service to the U.S. military,” Blackburn continued. “We do not know who the other Afghans Biden evacuated are, and Tennesseans are demanding answers.”
Blackburn added that the U.S. needs to “thoroughly vet all Afghans brought into the United States.”
“While our state is ready to welcome those Afghans who put their lives on the line to serve our country, the Biden administration owes it to publicly inform states like Tennessee before resettling evacuees into our communities,” she said.
In the letter to Mayorkas, Blackburn, Hagerty and Lee went on to press for details on the vetting process of those individuals as well as the timeline for resettlement. The Republicans asked for specifics on how many of those evacuated from Afghanistan and potentially resettling in Tennessee are Lawful Permanent Residents, Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders and P-1 or P-2 status.
They also demanded information on how many Afghans would be on “parole status.”
“For those on parole status, what vetting has taken place before they are paroled into the United States?” they wrote. “How will you ensure that any concerns that arise from such post-parole vetting can be addressed?”
The Tennessee Republicans went on to question how the administration is determining whether “refugee status or parole into the United States is appropriate in the case of a person who is evacuated from Afghanistan,” especially if the interagency vetting of biographical or biometric information “provides no additional or corroborating information regarding the person.”
“An Operation Allies Refuge summary document states that: ‘Those that do not clear secondary processing and are found to be inadmissible are placed into ICE custody pending removal proceedings,’” they wrote. “Does that mean someone could be paroled into the United States, subsequently not clear secondary processing, and then be removed from the United States?”
“We all ultimately answer to the American public, and the public deserves transparency and information regarding how this resettlement process is working so that they can understand and accurately judge its efficacy,” they continued, adding that they welcome an “open dialogue on these issues.”
Ahead of its Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw all military assets from Afghanistan, the Biden administration airlifted more than 124,000 individuals from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. That included approximately 6,000 American citizens.
Since the withdrawal, the administration has said its mission has shifted from a military mission to a “diplomatic” one and it is committed to continuing to evacuate Americans left behind, as well as Afghan allies, some with pending SIVs.
A senior government official last month outlined the screening and vetting process for Fox News, saying that the process begins overseas.
The administration has deployed more than 200 Customs and Border Protection officials overseas to capture the biometrics and biographics of individuals. The official said CBP officials then are able to work with “interagency partners,” including officials within the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, the intelligence community, the Department of Defense and others within the Department of Homeland Security to “look at data across databases to vet.”
The official explained that there is a “second layer” of screening once individuals arrive at a U.S. point of entry. Officials there go through the information and “make sure no one let into the country is of concern.”
“No one has gotten into the United States or entered that is of concern,” the official said. “The administration is working with urgency and with care to enhance the screening and vetting operations to make them more efficient without compromising U.S. national security.”
A spokesperson from the White House National Security Council told Fox News that intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals are conducting the screening and security vetting for all SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans.
“We are surging resources to evaluate each case to protect homeland security,” the NSC spokesperson said.
“If someone fails these checks while they are still overseas, they will not be permitted to board a flight to the United States,” the NSC spokesperson said, adding that “if something of concern is found, further security vetting at the port of arrival occurs and CBP has the authority to not grant them entry into the United States.”
The NSC spokesperson added: “The president takes no responsibility more seriously than keeping Americans safe, and we will use every tool we have to ensure that no known or suspected terrorists enter the United States.”
Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeSingman.