(Adds Defense Department probe in fourth paragraph.)
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Key Republicans are urging colleagues to abandon a legislative proposal that would provide permanent legal status to some Afghan nationals, after a disputed watchdog report questioned the US vetting process for the evacuees.
“Yet again, another independent watchdog confirms that the vetting of those admitted to the United States in the wake of President Biden’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has been completely insufficient,” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said in a statement Thursday.
The Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general on Wednesday found the Biden administration failed to adequately screen and vet Afghan nationals who were evacuated after the US withdrawal. The report says the US may have admitted individuals who pose a risk to national security and public safety — a conclusion DHS and the White House have rebuffed.
Separately, the Defense Department’s inspector general announced in a letter made public Thursday that it was opening its own review of whistleblower allegations that hundreds of evacuees were on Department of Defense watch lists. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) pushed for the investigation.
The DHS report and the planned DOD probe are problematic for the administration as it pushes lawmakers to pass bipartisan legislation offering a path to permanent legal status for eligible Afghans. The White House asked Congress to attach the provisions to a stopgap bill to extend government funding past Sept. 30.
In addition to the Afghan visa provisions, the spending bill’s path could be complicated by Republican resistance to a White House request for more Covid aid and an effort to attach energy permitting changes.
Grassley said Congress shouldn’t move forward on “sweeping” immigration status changes for evacuees unless the Biden administration responds to lawmakers’ requests for information. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) made similar comments Wednesday, saying the administration was trying to “fast track” Afghan evacuees’ citizenship.
Bipartisan legislation introduced in both the House (H.R. 8685) and Senate (S. 4787) would require Afghans who have temporary status in the US to go through additional vetting to apply for permanent status.
More than 79,000 Afghan evacuees arrived in the US between July 2021 and January 2022, the DHS inspector general’s report said. Although some are pursuing special immigrant visas designed for Afghan nationals who aided the US and its allies during the war in Afghanistan, many lack a clear path to permanent status.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org