Mayorkas defends 'multi-layered, multi-agency' Afghan refugee vetting amid GOP concerns

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Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Thursday defended what he described as a “multi-layered, multi-agency” vetting process for Afghanistan refugees amid Republican concerns that it could lead to terrorists entering the U.S.

Mayorkas was asked at a National Press Club event about concerns that Islamic State fighters could enter the U.S. through the Afghan refugee evacuation.

“We have no information to suggest ISIS has come into the United States through the Afghan national population that we have admitted under our legal authorities,” he said.

Mayorkas said he has dispatched approximately 400 Homeland Security personnel to the countries from where Afghans are being transported to the U.S. to capture biographic information as well as biometrics as part of the screening process.

“We have a multi-layered, multi-agency screening and vetting process to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said, referring to the terrorist threat. “We screen and vet individuals before they board planes to travel to the United States and that screening and vetting process is an ongoing one and multi-layered,” he said.

“We work with law enforcement, counter-terrorist and intelligence communities to achieve that vetting,” he said. “We do not do it alone in the Department of Homeland Security, once again, we do it with the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center and other departments and agencies across the federal enterprise.”

Dozens of Republican lawmakers wrote to President Biden this week, expressing concern about what they called a “rushed and incomplete” vetting process, specifically that background checks are inadequate and that DHS does not always have access to nations’ criminal background check systems.

“Foreign nations’ records are often digitized, which is likely the case in the vast majority of records in Afghanistan,” the letter, led by Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., said. “In addition, widespread corruption and failed governments make these databases unreliable, if not useless. This is certainly the case in a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and likely true of the previous Afghan government.”

The Republicans pointed to the release of illegal immigrants screened under databases who were wanted for murder or who were MS-13 members: “DHS cannot reliably assess the criminal background of a person from Bolivia, let alone Homeland Province.”

In response to the letter, a White House official told Fox News that screening and security are conducted by intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism officials from multiple agencies.

“Intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals are conducting screening and security vetting for all SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans, including reviews of biographic and biometric data, before they are permitted entry into the United States.

“We are surging resources to evaluate each case and process these as efficiently as possible to protect homeland security,” the official said.

They added that anyone who fails those checks will not be permitted to board a flight to the U.S., and that Afghans are required to go through additional inspections once they arrive into the U.S., as others arriving from outside the U.S. go through — including potential secondary inspections.

“The president takes no responsibility more seriously than keeping Americans safe, and we will use every tool we have to ensure that no known or suspected terrorists enter the United States,” the official said.

Mayorkas, in his remarks, emphasized the role that multiple databases from multiple agencies play in the vetting process.

“Multiple agencies are involved in it because different agencies have different holdings which we can ping,” he said.

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