WASHINGTON – Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that some people recently evacuated from Afghanistan by the US have been tagged on terror watch lists while in transit and have been banned from entering the US.
“In fact we have,” Mayorkas said when asked at a press conference whether the US had encountered evacuees on terror watchlists. “And we deny access to people whose derogatory information is not cleared and we have no confidence in the safety of the American people.”
Mayorkas was then asked what the US will do with Afghans who have been evacuated to transit countries but have refused entry to the US for security reasons.
“We are working with our international allies to address the disposition of these people,” Mayorkas said.
He did not say whether Afghans were classified as a security risk after landing in the US or how many of the evacuees appeared on terror watchlists. Showing up on US terror watchlists or stopping for questioning does not necessarily mean that individuals are at risk.
Mayorkas stressed that the US had added another layer of protection by directing evacuees through third countries such as Qatar, Germany and Spain, where they would undergo a security clearance of the danger and chaos in Afghanistan before being admitted to the US.
The United States has sent over 400 federal employees and hundreds of biometric screening machines to these locations, Mayorkas said, and Afghans are banned from boarding flights into the US until they are cleared. They will also be double checked when they arrive in the US before they get off, he said.
Mayorkas said over 40,000 people have been evacuated to the United States since mid-August. Of these, 13 percent are US citizens, 8 percent are lawful residents, and 79 percent are Afghans who have worked in the United States or belong to vulnerable groups, such as journalists and athletes.
A senior State Department official told reporters this week that most Afghans who worked for the United States and applied for special visas have not been evacuated. And the White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki estimated on Tuesday that there are still between 100 and 200 US citizens who want to leave Afghanistan.
Kabul airport has remained closed since the US military withdrew from Afghanistan on August 31, and international non-governmental organizations have said they are warning Afghans who are at risk who are still in the country that the borders are too dangerous to to exceed them.
Most Afghan nationals evacuated to the US, Mayorkas said, have chosen to be temporarily housed at one of the eight US military bases, where they can get access to legal advice, advice, immigration processing and other services before finally going American parishes are being resettled.
Mayorkas said the Biden administration believes “our mission will not be accomplished until we have safely evacuated all US citizens who wish to leave Afghanistan, all legal permanent residents, and all those who have helped the United States in Afghanistan.”
“These efforts will not end until we achieve that goal,” he said.