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Congress Spars Over Bill Giving Afghans Who Fled The Taliban A Path To Permanent Residence

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  • Lawmakers failed to come to an agreement over legislation that would create a path to permanent residence for Afghan evacuees, omitting it from a final year-long spending bill.
  • Opponents have expressed security concerns after multiple inspector general reports found the Biden administration failed to properly vet incoming Afghans. 
  • “This is like closing the barn door after the horses have run out, because all of these people obviously are already here, and some damage has already been done,” Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Legislation to help Afghans who fled Kabul become permanent legal residents of the U.S. was left out of Congress’ year-long government funding bill released early Tuesday as lawmakers sparred over vetting requirements and other concerns.

The omission comes as a blow to advocates and even former military top brass, who argue that expediting residency for some 73,000 evacuees is the least the U.S. can do for Afghan partners after the U.S. withdrew from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in August 2021, according to The Washington Post. However, influential lawmakers argue that the official bipartisan version of the Afghan Adjustment Act (AAA) — one of many swirling around Capitol Hill — fails to provide the rigorous screening necessary to ensure safe resettlement.

“This is like closing the barn door after the horses have run out, because all of these people obviously are already here, and some damage has already been done,” Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The AAA would fast-track the process for thousands of Afghan evacuees living in the U.S. under “humanitarian parole” status to obtain green cards and undergo additional security reviews. For most, parole status expires at the end of 2023, meaning they could lose legal status in the U.S. and face deportation.

“What we’re seeing is the Republicans are really in the way. And that’s disappointing, because a lot of them told us they would be with us,” former Navy SEAL Shawn VanDiver, who runs the #AfghanEvac coalition of organizations supporting resettlement, told the Post.

On Saturday, more than 30 retired military leaders signed a letter organized by #AfghanEvac urging Congress to pass the AAA, arguing the bill not would not only enhance security procedures, but send an important message to allies who may support the U.S. in future wars.

“In any such conflict, potential allies will remember what happens now with our Afghan allies,” they said.

Advocates for the bill blamed Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for obstructing efforts to attach the AAA to the $1.7 billion omnibus spending bill, the text of which was released Tuesday morning, the Post reported. Grassley said he and other lawmakers would continue to oppose the measure “as long as the vetting process is not improved,” according to the outlet.

Grassley and Republican Sens. Rob Portman of Ohio and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma twice in 2022 grilled FBI Director Christopher Wray to account for security lapses connected to Afghan resettlement in the U.S. after they said they successfully pressured the administration to conduct a report on the parolee vetting process in December 2021.

The Department of Defense’s internal watchdog found that U.S. agencies failed to vet evacuees using all available data, and later identified “potentially significant” security concerns connected to at least 50 individuals who arrived in the U.S. as part of the Operation Allies Welcome resettlement program, according to a February report.

Customs and Border Protection officials allowed Afghan evacuees who were not fully screened to enter the U.S., a September Department of Homeland Security watchdog report also found.

“Congress should not even begin to consider proposals related to sweeping immigration status changes for evacuees, such as an Afghan Adjustment Act, until the Biden administration, at the very least, guarantees the integrity of and fully responds to long-standing congressional oversight requests regarding the vetting and evacuee resettlement process,” Grassley said in a statement after the report’s release. “Anything less would be irresponsible.”

An aide for Grassely told the DCNF the reports the senator was single-handedly holding up the bill were not accurate. Lawmakers floated several versions of the act as Congress crafted the spending bill, prohibiting its inclusion in the final bill, the aide said.

A source familiar previously told CNN Grassley, who holds considerable power as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had blocked the act at the committee level.

Other high-ranking Republican members have also displayed skepticism toward the act, including Portman, who is finishing up his term in Congress as ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Portman criticized the administration’s lax vetting process after the DHS report was released.

“It treats unvetted, random Afghans as if they were former partners when, in fact, more than 40 percent of those evacuated were not our partners,” he told the Columbus Dispatch in October.

Lawmakers have attempted to stonewall the AAA for at least one more reason.

“Beyond the lack of agreement among some of the bill’s supporters about which version to push for inclusion in the omnibus bill, lawmakers on both sides of the Capitol, including Sen. Grassley, have expressed concerns that the proposals would legislatively ratify the Biden Administration’s abuse of the immigration parole statute,” Grassley’s aide told the DCNF.

Humanitarian parole allows DHS to grant noncitizens temporary residence in the U.S. under specific constraints and has been used under the Biden administration to grant minors from Central American countries stay in the U.S.

The bill could be delayed to the next Congress if lawmakers fail to tack it on as a separate amendment to the omnibus spending bill in the short window before Christmas break, something pro-AAA advocates pushed for on Tuesday.

Doing so could improve the chances of strengthening the vetting process appropriately and “will not simply ratify the Biden administration’s irresponsible approach of simply waving everyone in without attention to risks,” the Center for Immigration Studies’ Vaughan explained to the DCNF.

“The problems with the bill must be addressed, and I believe we can do that,” South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of the AAA’s original co-sponsors, told the DCNF.

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