Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that more than 40,000 Afghanistan evacuees have arrived in the U.S. since mid-August, NBC News reported.
Of the evacuees admitted, 13% were U.S. citizens, 8% were legal residents, and 79% were “vulnerable” Afghans, such as journalists and female athletes, NBC News reported.
Mayorkas said that some evacuees were flagged on terror watchlists while they were in transit and not allowed to enter the U.S.
“We deny access to individuals whose derogatory information is not resolved, and we do not feel confident in the safety and security of the American people,” said the secretary, who did not offer how many of the evacuees had turned up on terror watchlists.
Mayorkas said most Afghans admitted into the U.S. have opted to be placed temporarily at one of eight military bases where they are given access to legal counsel, counseling, immigration processing, and other services before eventually resettling in American communities, according to NBC News.
Mayorkas was asked what will happen to Afghans who were evacuated to transit countries but denied entry into the U.S. due to security concerns.
“We are working with our international allies to address the disposition of those individuals,” Mayorkas said.
The secretary said that another layer of protection was added by the routing of evacuees through third-party countries such as Qatar, Germany, and Spain.
Evacuees sent to those countries undergo security screening away from both the U.S. and the danger and chaos inside Afghanistan, he said.
Mayorkas said more than 400 federal employees and hundreds of biometric screening machines had been sent to such third-party countries, where Afghans are not allowed to board flights to the U.S. until they are cleared.
Once cleared, Afghans again are screened after they arrive in the U.S. and before they deplane, Mayorkas said.
Politico reported Thursday that Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., led a group of Republican senators pressuring President Joe Biden for details on who remains in Afghanistan following the U.S. military’s withdrawal earlier this week.
Cotton and 25 GOP colleagues want to know how many Americans, green card holders, and special immigrant visa applicants who assisted U.S. operations remain in the Taliban-controlled country, Politico said.
A State Department official told Politico that a majority of special immigrant visa applicants (SIVs) were left behind because of the complexities of the final few days of the withdrawal.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki estimated Tuesday that between 100 to 200 U.S. citizens who want to leave are still in Afghanistan, NBC News said.
Since the departure of the U.S. military from Afghanistan on Tuesday, the Kabul airport has remained closed and international nongovernmental organizations have said they’re advising vulnerable Afghans in the country that the borders are too dangerous to cross, NBC News reported.