By Phil Stewart and Mica Rosenberg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -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.
In a statement, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson declined to comment on the figures provided to Reuters by sources but said people who had left the bases "generally" had ties to the United States, like family members of friends, and resources to support themselves.
The spokesperson said that in addition, at the outset of the operation many of those evacuated were U.S. citizens, permanent residents or had approved Special Immigrant Visas so were able to depart quickly.
But leaving early could cost other Afghan evacuees critical benefits – like expedited work permits – and create a slew of legal problems down the road, given the complexities of the U.S. immigration system.
"It's a giant can of worms," said one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"This could lead to years and years of terrible immigration status problems."
The benefits the evacuees have received have been more limited, so far, than what's offered to refugees. But that appears set to change following legislation passed on Thursday by Congress – despite opposition from Republicans – that would give Afghan evacuees the more extensive assistance usually provided to refugees.
"We should do everything in our power to help our Afghan allies get off to a strong start in their new homes," Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said in a statement.
The new legislation says Afghan asylum applications should be expedited. But those who leave U.S. bases early might not get all the legal orientation they need start their applications.
ONE-WAY TRIP OFFBASE
Immigration experts say Afghans who leave the bases are not breaking U.S. laws and military officials have no legal authority to hold law-abiding Afghans against their will at any of the eight locations hosting 53,000 Afghans who fled the Taliban on U.S. evacuation flights.
The scale of the independent departures vary from base to base, according to the sources – more than 300 alone at Fort Bliss in Texas – a figure that is likely to alarm both advocates and critics of the massive U.S. resettlement operation.
However, U.S. officials stress that all of the Afghans leaving U.S. bases had already undergone security screening before arriving in the United States. The risk of the independent departures is to the Afghans themselves.
Reuters viewed a document, entitled "Departee Information," that is meant to warn Afghans considering leaving before completing their resettlement. It reminds them that, on base, they can get their immigration paperwork processed and even cash to help pay for travel to their destination in the United States.
"Once you leave this base, you forfeit these advantages and may not return," it reads.
Margaret Stock, an immigration lawyer with expertise in cases related to the military, said the warning was not ill-intentioned.
"I think they're trying to look out for people," she said.
"The people managing the bases are rightfully concerned that somebody might not be fully aware of the consequences of wandering off."
Afghans leaving U.S. bases can be a touchy issue in some parts of the country, particularly given media coverage of security incidents at Fort McCoy, in Wisconsin, and Fort Bliss.
But General Glen VanHerck, head of Northern Command, pushed back on the idea that criminality was a problem on the U.S. bases. He told Pentagon reporters on Thursday that the numbers of incidents involving robbery and theft were substantially lower than in the general U.S. population, with only eight cases in six weeks.
Asked what was the limiting factor in getting Afghans processed for resettlement, VanHerck said it was not vaccinations against measles or the coronavirus or security checks.
Instead, it was efforts by U.S. officials to ensure "each of the Afghan guests have a great place to land and have assurances for where they're going to relocate to."
"So I understand that, right now, is the limiting factor on output," he said.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Mica Rosenberg; additional reporting by Jonathan Landay;Editing by Mary Milliken and Grant McCool)
The U.S. is hosting some 53,000 Afghan civilians across eight military bases, who were evacuated amid the chaotic American withdrawal.The evacuees, many of them granted a special status called "humanitarian parole" while on base, are met with refugee resettlement services to streamline the immigration process.Angela Fernandez is with the Department of Homeland Security:"Our guests at Fort McCoy are currently completing immigration paperwork, including employment authorization and health screenings to prepare them for their resettlement in the United States." But Reuters has learned that something strange is happening: Hundreds of Afghan evacuees are simply walking off the bases.Two sources familiar with data said the number of "independent departures" top 700, and could be higher.And these walk-offs are alarming immigration advocates worried new arrivals who abandon the resettlement services and the critical benefits offered could find themselves at the mercy of a complex U.S. immigration system down the road.One U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described it as "a giant can of worms," and warned, "this could lead to years and years of terrible immigration status problems."In a statement, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesperson declined to comment on the figures provided to Reuters. But DHS said people who had left the bases "generally" had ties to the United States, such as family members of friends, and resources to support themselves.Immigration experts say Afghans who leave the bases are not breaking U.S. laws. Military officials have no legal authority to hold law-abiding Afghans against their will.Some hard-line anti-immigration activists have raised concerns that the Afghan evacuees could pose a national security risk.But U.S. officials stress that all of the Afghans leaving U.S. bases had already undergone security screening. The risk of the independent departures is to the Afghans themselves.Reuters viewed a document, entitled "Departee Information," that is meant to warn Afghans considering leaving before completing their resettlement. It reminds them that, on base, they can get their immigration paperwork processed and even cash to help pay for travel to their destination in the United States.It reads, "once you leave this base, you forfeit these advantages and may not return."
There are challenges, but also gratitude and hope for families starting a new life and getting their chance at achieving the American dream.
Greece will not allow a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis to unfold on its borders following the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Friday after visiting a new migrant camp on an island near Turkey. The Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan in August brought fears in Europe of a replay of 2015, when nearly 1 million asylum-seekers, mostly Syrians, fled to Europe by crossing from Turkey to Greece.
If the $3.5 trillion Democratic reconciliation bill becomes law in anything close to current form — including paid parental and sick leave, universal preschool, some free college, and an annual check to households with younger children — it would be a big step toward turning the United States into a European-style comprehensive welfare state. Many progressive Democrats speak highly of the Scandinavian social democracies, in particular. As Bernie Sanders has put it: “I think we should look to cou
Chairman Mao Zedong's favoured car brand, Hongqi, or Red Flag, is exporting China-made electric sport-utility vehicles to Norway, as Chinese car companies expand globally. In a statement late on Thursday, Hongqi said it had received 500 orders for its cars in Norway, where it said there were environmentally friendly policies and good infrastructure for electric vehicles. In China, the world's biggest car market, Hongqi's sales have grown in recent years thanks to the launch of more models and an expanded sales network.
In one of his three snaps, Denzel Mims caught a 40-yard pass in the Jets’ Week One loss to Carolina. Mims hasn’t had another opportunity since. That will change on Sunday, as head coach Robert Saleh told reporters in his Friday press conference that the receiver will be active for New York’s Week Four matchup [more]
Federal officials said the cases against the former Leavenworth Detention Center officers are part of their efforts to fight prison corruption.
A group of American citizens and lawful permanent residents evacuated to the United Arab Emirates from Afghanistan flew out of the Gulf state bound for the United States on Thursday, the country's foreign ministry said, after being temporarily held up for vetting. The Department of Homeland Security had denied U.S. landing rights for a charter plane carrying more than 100 evacuees, said organisers of that earlier flight — one of several that emerged from ad hoc networks that formed to bolster last month's chaotic evacuation operation from Afghanistan. But the State Department said on Wednesday that more than 100 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents evacuated to Abu Dhabi from Afghanistan aboard the charter flight were expected to fly on to the United States on Thursday.
Four years removed from frequent tantrums on field, Travis Kelce will be up against his brother for first time since passions kept getting the best of him.
Determined to keep track of their guns, some U.S. military units have turned to a technology that could let enemies detect troops on the battlefield, The Associated Press has found. The rollout on Army and Air Force bases continues even though the Department of Defense itself describes putting the technology in firearms as a “significant” security risk. The Marines have rejected radio frequency identification technology in weapons for that very reason, and the Navy said this week that it was halting its own dalliance.
California’s public debt burden has risen to tens of thousands of dollars for each taxpayer in the state.
The group of US citizens, green card holders, and special immigrant visa holders departed Kabul on Tuesday after receiving clearance from the Taliban.
Sallee sees the Gators winning by more than a score against the Wildcats on Saturday.
The U.S. Senate narrowly defeated Republican-backed legislation on Thursday that would have curtailed assistance for thousands of Afghans evacuated last month as U.S. forces withdrew and the militant Islamist Taliban took over Afghanistan. The measure failed on a 50-50 vote because it needed a simple majority to be included in a spending bill https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-shutdown-idUSKBN2GQ0XW that must pass to keep the government open after midnight. Senators voted along party lines, with Republicans backing the measure and Democrats opposing it, underscoring the deep divide over how the country should deal with a flood of Afghans desperate for new homes after the U.S. withdrawal from their homeland.
A London police officer was sentenced to life imprisonment Thursday for abusing his power to rape and kill a woman in March under the guise of lockdown enforcement.
Some economists are saying that the U.S. might be soon approaching a 1970s-style inflation situation. Stephen Roach, former Morgan Stanley Asia chairman, tells CNBC he is worried that the impact of…
Key reservoirs on the Colorado River desperately need water. Let's start building that pipeline from the Mississippi River.
A man was arrested on Wednesday after he opened the emergency exit on an American Airlines plane and sat on the wing once the flight had landed in Miami.
The Build Back Better Act does include a proposed methane fee, but it's not aimed at farmers.
The singer, actress and mom of two gets candid about mom-shaming, dating and why she doesn't see herself being pregnant again.