The Department of Homeland Security has taken lead on the process of relocating Afghan citizens entering the United States, putting them through a “thorough” vetting process.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Friday announced the strategic pivot that places the DHS at the heart of a key operation in the final days of the long-winded withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan.
“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,” Psaki told reporters during a scheduled briefing.
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Relocated Afghans will receive extensive medical support as part of the relocation process, including COVID-19 screening and access to a COVID-19 vaccine.
The process aims to evacuate Afghan citizens who worked with the United States military to America under Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). Not all evacuees head straight to the U.S., however: In some cases, the evacuees head to ally countries to await processing and vetting before moving onto the U.S. for resettlement.
The vetting process has created a backlog, such as at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, where some Afghan evacuees remain stuck on the runway for hours as they await processing.
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“Our security vetting process is so thorough that even as people are vetted before they come – they go through a background check before they come – we implement multiple layers of checks, including a confirmation in some cases on landing,” Psaki explained. “This might include checking the manifest, and in a limited number of cases we have vetting process that are unresolved – very limited, but that may lead to a delay.”
“Of course, ensuring that people are treated humanely as they are coming to the United States – they have access to food and water – is something we are committed to, and we will continue to improve any of these conditions,” she added.
As of now, the White House maintains that the United States will maintain zero diplomatic presence in Afghanistan after the Aug. 31 deadline that Biden has worked toward over the past few months.
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Any American citizen who remains in the country following the deadline will need to wait for word on what process they can follow to evacuate the country – a process that some ally nations have already started to undertake: Germany has advised citizens that it is working to organize commercial flights at a later date as the country completed its final military airlift Thursday morning.
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However, citizens may try to make their way on foot to a neighboring country to access an active embassy and receive help there. Taking such a trip may prove too dangerous, though, and Germany cautioned that it is up to each individual to decide for themselves if that risk is worth taking.