The more we learn about the handling and processing of all of those Afghan evacuees who wound up on flights to America from Kabul, the more disturbing the news seems to be. Just yesterday we learned that the government is handing out REAL-ID licenses and identification cards to all of them when we haven’t even been able to verify their actual identity in some cases. And now, Reuters is reporting that not all of the evacuees are staying on the military bases and other compounds where they are being housed while their paperwork is being processed. This is potentially bad news for the evacuees themselves because it will result in their not receiving the full benefits that are being made available, but it also means that we’re losing track of hundreds of them shortly after their arrival in the country.
Something unexpected is happening at U.S. military bases hosting Afghan evacuees: Many hundreds of them are simply leaving before receiving U.S. resettlement services, two sources familiar with the data told Reuters.
The number of “independent departures,” which top 700 and could be higher, has not been previously reported. But the phenomenon is raising alarms among immigration advocates concerned about the risks to Afghans who give up on what is now an open-ended, complex and completely voluntary resettlement process.
In the speed and chaos of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in August following 20 years of war, many evacuees were brought into the United States under a temporary status of “humanitarian parole.” Once transferred to U.S. military bases, refugee resettlement groups and U.S. officials have been trying to connect people with services for a smooth transition to the United States.
DHS is clearly trying to play this story down. One of their spokespeople told Reuters that the people who had left the bases “generally” had ties to the United States, such as relatives or friends who could give them a place to stay. But the word “generally” is key here. As we already noted, we’re not entirely sure who all of these people are and many of them were not among the helpers who had a proven track record of assisting the NATO forces and who generally had solid identification documents.
So what about the others? As the linked report points out, they were all granted temporary “humanitarian parole” status so they could be in the country legally. And as such, they can’t be held on the bases against their will. But that status is temporary, as the name implies. If they leave and disappear into the population, when that status expires they will basically be illegal aliens even though our own government brought them here.
Also, while it doesn’t constitute definitive proof of anything, who just walks away from a secure place to stay with a roof over their head, free meals, and the promise of incoming cash assistance and other resources? Particularly considering the chaotic circumstances surrounding their departure from Afghanistan and the lack of time to make any arrangements in many cases, doesn’t that seem rather odd?
According to one document that’s being given to all of the evacuees, once they leave the base they can not return. They will also not be eligible for help with their immigration paperwork, cash payments, and the other benefits being funded via the continuing resolution passed on Thursday night. That sounds like a lot to give up unless you’re really motivated to get away from the base and the federal officials there.
One U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official warned Reuters that these early departures could lead to “years and years of terrible immigration status problems.” I’m sure that’s one possible outcome but it’s not the only one I find myself being concerned with. Were any of these evacuees members of or sympathizers with al Qaeda or ISIS that slipped through the cracks? I hope we at least got all of their names before they left. But with the way this entire operation has been handled from the start, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.