This week we were all confronted with grim images and videos reminiscent of 1975 Saigon coming out of Afghanistan. All Americans are saddened by these events and are hoping for the safe return of our fellow citizens.
The men and women of America’s armed forces, many of whom sacrificed their lives and their limbs to defeat those who planned and carried out the September 11 attacks, are owed a deep debt of gratitude by every American. It is a debt none of us will ever be able to repay. Those who serve our country demonstrate a professionalism and distinction that is second to none. They are, without question, the finest America has to offer – and even now, continue to perform heroically under incredibly difficult circumstances. But those who lead our servicemen and women have a duty to be worthy of that service – something recent events have made even clearer.
As I write to you, the situation continues to deteriorate – yet the White House seems unable to convey even basic answers about the path forward.
As of this week, the Biden administration has been unable to clearly say even how many Americans remain stranded in the country. President Biden said Wednesday that 15,000 of our fellow citizens are stuck in Afghanistan. His Press Secretary Jen Psaki gave a different number – telling reporters that there were 11,000 individuals who “self-identify as American citizens” waiting to be evacuated, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said his “best guess” was between 5,000 and 10,000, while another defense analyst estimated the number could be as high as 40,000.
White House officials have also been unwilling to explain how many Afghan nationals will be brought to the United States – or whether they will be screened and vetted before arriving here. An unnamed Homeland Security Department official told Politico that the screening will happen before entering the U.S. – but the Pentagon says that “processing” of the arriving Afghans will happen at Fort McCoy, here in Wisconsin, and at other bases in the United States. Even more alarming, President Biden’s Citizenship and Immigration Service is now asking for “volunteers” to deploy to these installations to assist with reviewing visa applications. President Biden has also declined to say if those arriving without valid visas will be held in custody while they are screened – or if he will employ the same kind of failed “catch-and-release” policy we are currently seeing on the southern border.
This is deeply concerning.
I voted for legislation to expand, improve and accelerate the processing of visas for Afghan translators and others who assisted in the U.S. war effort earlier this year – something that the vast majority of Americans support. While I would have preferred a safe third country review option as part of that legislation, Democratic leaders in the House did not allow for consideration of any alternatives, amendments or improvements to what amounted to a take-it-or-leave it proposal.
The Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program is already under fire for its susceptibility to fraud. According to recent reports, more than 80 percent of the visa applications submitted by Afghans were rejected during the first three months of the year alone – long before the situation in Afghanistan collapsed into utter chaos. Trying to confirm the identities of Afghans now – let alone conducting proper background checks – with no functioning US embassy in Kabul and Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban will make this process even more complicated.
I believe President Biden should abandon his dangerous, ready-fire-aim plan – and instead transport those fleeing to safe third countries for vetting before bringing thousands of unknown people into Wisconsin or other U.S. states. Our national security has been deeply degraded in the months since January 20. Allowing the mass entry of foreigners from a known hotbed of terrorism now and asking questions later will only make this situation far worse.
I have issued a statement on the rapid collapse in Afghanistan, and outlined my concerns with President Biden’s apparent refugee resettlement plans, both of which are posted on my website.
I am committed to doing everything I can to help ensure the safe and speedy evacuation of all U.S. citizens from Afghanistan. This must be our immediate and primary focus. Please keep all of them and their families in your prayers.