Fact-Checking Donald Trump’s Claim About Afghan Refugees

The former president said there is no vetting of those coming to the U.S.

In a statement on Tuesday, former President Donald Trump claimed that there is “NO VETTING” of refugees coming to America from Afghanistan. He went on to ask: “How many terrorists will Joe Biden bring to America? We don’t know!”

A State Department spokesperson tells  The Dispatch Fact Check: “We are working with our interagency partners to complete security screening of travelers.” Additionally, travelers whose visas are approved “will also be subject to further screening before potential resettlement in the United States.”

There are two main categories of Afghans the United States is trying to evacuate from Afghanistan: those who worked for the U.S. government or military in Afghanistan and thus qualify for the the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa program along with their families, and those who the United States government has identified as particularly vulnerable now that the Taliban has taken control of the country. 

Afghans who do not qualify under the SIV programs can still come to the United States as refugees, with the Biden administration announcing in early August the creation of a new refugee designation for Afghanistan—Priority 2 designation, which The Morning Dispatchreported includes “current and former journalists and non-governmental organization workers.” Priority 2 also gives an opportunity for Afghans who worked for the U.S. government in Afghanistan but did not meet the minimum time requirement for the SIV program.

The application process for visas is typically a long one, and in light of the challenges of completing the entire process in Taliban-controlled Kabul while simultaneously trying to evacuate, the U.S. is currently focused on getting those interested in applying for the SIV program to military sites in other countries. On a background press call Tuesday, a senior Biden administration official said that “our Defense Department is using a number of military bases around the country to temporarily house SIV — Special Immigrant Visa — applicants and other vulnerable Afghans.” Once these individuals have been moved to one of these bases—such as in Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Germany—they undergo security checks so that unscreened Afghans are not sent straight to the United States.

The administration official stated that this screening includes “biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals.”

The screening process for the SIV program is lengthy, with a 14-step application process split into four phases: the Chief of Mission (COM) application process; Form I-360 petition adjudication by the Department of Homeland Security; visa interview and security screening; and final visa adjudication.

The first phase requires the applicant to submit documentation that he worked for the U.S. government for a minimum of one year, including a letter of recommendation from his supervisor during his employment. Applicants must also write a statement “describing the threat(s) you face as a result of your employment with or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan.” This phase requires a copy of the passport to be submitted along with a completed application form that includes biographic data, including the applicant’s national identity number—the Afghanistan equivalent of a Social Security number—and information on family and employers. All of this information would ordinarily then be reviewed by the U.S. embassy in Kabul. Currently, the State Department is encouraging applicants to send their applications to the National Visa Center.

If the application is approved at this step, the applicant then submits a petition to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which consists of the previously mentioned documents. If this petition is approved, then the applicant can apply for a visa through the National Visa Center (NVC).

This stage requires a copy of the applicant’s passport, birth certificate, and any documents showing a connection between the applicant and accompanying family members, such as a marriage certificate. Following the NVC’s review of these documents, an in-person interview is then scheduled with a consular officer.

The final step in the screening process is a medical exam and then the visa is either approved or denied.

Some Afghans who are directly referred for refugee status by a U.S. embassy, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or a designated non-governmental organization can qualify for Priority 1 refugee status if they are found to be in need of resettlement. Others who already have family members in the United States can also be reunited with their families as Priority 3 designated refugees. Unlike Priority 2, which applies to broad groups the U.S. has identified as being vulnerable, Priority 1 and Priority 3 only apply to individual cases that the U.S. government identifies.

According to the State Department, “Once cases receive access to the [U.S. Refugee Admissions Program], they undergo the same processing steps, including extensive security vetting.”

According to the Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System which is operated by the State Department, Priority 2 refugees must have referrals from either a U.S. government official or the most senior U.S. citizen employed by the media organization or NGO where the applicant worked. They must also submit the same documents proving identity and employment history as applicants with the SIV program, and “must pass extensive security checks.”

At the press conference during which he announced the creation of the Priority 2 designation, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said even those who don’t qualify for the program still have the opportunity to seek refugee status in the United States, saying: “[W]ith regard to Afghans who may fear persecution, may fear violence, and who may not qualify either for the Special Immigrant Visa Program or what I just announced today, the P-2 program, they can also avail themselves of their right to seek refugee status in the United States and apply for that.” The general refugee process involves extensive interagency background checks, interviews, and medical exams.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is allowing some Afghan visa applicants and “individuals for whom there is not a relevant legal status” to enter the United States before their application process has been completed using his parole authority. Those who are allowed to do so, however, are still required to undergo a security check.

Each of the various methods through which Afghans currently escaping their country could enter the United States has vetting processes in place. The United States is currently flying Afghans who have not completed their visa or refugee status applications to military bases in other countries where they can then undergo screening. While Mayorkas’ parole power is letting some Afghans enter the United States before their visa application is complete, this process does not allow them to avoid security screening. 

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