Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas promised to “swiftly and safely” resettle thousands of Afghan allies into the United States and confirmed that DHS has denied evacuees from entering the U.S. due to “derogatory” information obtained during the vetting process.
Mayorkas was joined by Robert J. Fenton Jr., senior response official of the Unified Coordination Group, during a press conference Friday to discuss Operation Allies Welcome – created to help thousands of vulnerable Afghan evacuees from Afghanistan assimilate into the United States.
The DHS secretary told reporters that roughly over 40,000 American citizens and Afghan partners have arrived into the U.S. from Afghanistan and are undergoing an initial processing at predesignated U.S. military bases prior to being resettled into communities. He touted the robust biometric screening and vetting process in place, in both the U.S. and transit countries, in order to make sure every individual entering the country is properly screened.
In response to a question from Fox News’ Jake Gibson, Mayorkas confirmed that there already have been individuals flagged with “derogatory information” during the vetting process, and the U.S. is working with transit countries on what to do with those individuals. The secretary did not specify the number of people flagged or their present locations.
Mayorkas said that 400 employees from U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the U.S. Coast Guard and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have been deployed to assist the vetting process. The government also shipped hundreds of biometric machines to transit countries to aid the effort.
Eight military bases have been designated by the Pentagon to house refugees and are providing medical care, language access services and medical assistance. The goal of the operation is to move Afghans off the bases and resettled into the U.S. as “swiftly and safely” as possible, said Mayorkas.
Mayorkas also stated that the United States has admitted a “small number” of unaccompanied children who have been evacuated from Afghanistan and he anticipated that there may be more that will arrive. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is working with DHS on that effort, including international and nonprofit organizations, who are facilitating care and other resources.
Fenton said DHS is taking “every precaution” to help stop the spread of COVID by testing all evacuees upon arrival and offering vaccines.
The DHS secretary called the evacuation from Afghanistan “unprecedented and historic,” noting that 120,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since the beginning of the U.S. withdrawal.
Last week, President Biden directed DHS to serve as the lead coordinating agency on helping resettle Afghan refugees in the U.S. Fenton was appointed to lead the Unified Coordination Group, which is in charge of immigrant COVID testing and quarantine when required, initial processing and the resettlement of Afghans who may not be U.S. citizens, green card holders or lawful permanent residents.
“Already, DHS has been working closely with agencies across government – including our military, diplomats, intelligence community and law enforcement professionals, and many others – to ensure all Afghans are screened and vetted prior to being allowed into the United States,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing.
The State Department has set up “adequate facilities” across the U.S. for Afghan visa applicants to be housed at while their vetting process is completed.
However, when pressed during a press briefing Thursday, the State Department would not say what happens to Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants evacuated from Afghanistan who fail the “rigorous” vetting process.
Fox News’ Peter Aitken and Caitlin McFall contributed to this report.