As Afghans resettle across the country and the United States examines how it evacuated and screened tens of thousands of refugees, U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany is among those who sees shortcomings in the process – and squarely blames the Biden Administration.
“As I warned last year, the #BidenAdministration has been recklessly releasing potentially dangerous Afghans into our communities. The White House told us they were ‘fully vetted.’ They lied,” Tiffany wrote on Twitter on Feb. 18, 2022.
Tiffany, whose district includes Wausau, Marshfield and Minocqua, made the comments following the release of a U.S. Department of Defense inspector general’s report evaluating the department’s efforts in screening refugees when assisting the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Tiffany’s office did not return phone calls or emails from PolitiFact Wisconsin. But his tweet included a link to a news article about the analysis, so there is no doubt what he is referring to.
For this fact-check, we are zeroing in on the most concrete aspect of Tiffany’s claim – whether, according to the analysis, the Biden administration has been “recklessly releasing potentially dangerous Afghans into our communities.”
Defense department didn’t call Afghans with security concerns ‘potentially dangerous’
With international attention focused on Russia’s war against Ukraine, and refugees leaving that war zone, it’s easy to forget about what Tiffany is highlighting. He is focused on the August 2021 evacuation of 76,000 refugees from Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrew its forces and the Taliban re-seized control.
Republicans have argued from the start that the chaotic withdrawal – based on a timeline set by former President Donald Trump – meant it was impossible for U.S. officials to adequately screen those who boarded planes and arrived here.
Let’s start with the verbiage Tiffany uses – “potentially dangerous.”
Nowhere in the inspector general’s Feb. 15, 2022, report does it categorize any of the Afghan refugees as “potentially dangerous.” The description comes from a headline in the Washington Times – though, we should note, the body of that story doesn’t include that language either.
Rather, the report itself describes 50 people who had “potentially significant security concerns” and made it to the continental United States. The report does not say what those concerns involve, such as a prior criminal background or otherwise.
Separately, the inspector general’s office wrote that as of September 2021, of a sampling of 31 Afghans identified as possible security risks, only three could be located.
The report does not indicate what security concerns or “derogatory information” about the individuals was found in the review. The defense department defines derogatory information as information that would require additional investigation or clarification in taking “administrative action” against individuals. Administrative action in this case would be allowing someone into the United States
Erin Barbato, a Wisconsin-based immigration attorney, noted that just because someone may have committed crimes in their home country doesn’t make them a national security threat in the United States. To imply the few dozen people with such backgrounds are risks is speculative and “fear mongering,” she said.
When refugees come to the U.S., they rely on work programs and government assistance to restart their lives. Refugees also were resettled from military bases by a resettlement agency responsible for them. Someone knows where they were placed – and likely where they are – even if the Defense Department couldn’t at the time of the report, she said.
Afghans were vetted with information available at the time
To be sure, the vetting was done with only the information available at the time.
The inspector general’s report notes the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol didn’t vet refugees with Defense Department biometric and other biographical data. The reason?
The information wasn’t available because of agreements made with foreign allies about who can access that data. It wasn’t until late 2021 when that data became available, according to the audit report.
The two agencies later entered into an agreement to share data and Afghans already vetted through the existing process, which contained other biometric data sources, were reexamined. The retroactive screening is what found those 50 Afghans with possible security concerns.
Ultimately, the report amounts to identifying technical hiccups in the early vetting process during the evacuation, said Susan Martin, founder and retired professor at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University.
The report doesn’t explain whether what a derogatory comment is or whether that information was of major or minor concern, she said. To Martin, it’s clear Afghans were vetted and report highlights efforts to improve the system for how the U.S. vets refugees.
“The issue is whether the vetting identified all applicants who might pose security threats before being released into the US,” Martin said. “No system is perfect in doing so. And, all systems can be improved.”
Citing a specific report, Tiffany said it demonstrated the Biden administration has been “recklessly releasing potentially dangerous Afghans into our communities”
The report did not describe the Afghans as potentially dangerous. A Washington Times headline did. The inspector general’s report identified 50 people that had “derogatory information” in a defense department biometric database, but what that information involves is not known and was not included in the report.
The report did find holes and inefficiencies in the vetting process that were fixed before the report’s publication and Afghans admitted into the U.S. were retroactively screened with missing data. The bottomline: Tiffany overstates these findings in making his point.
Our definition of Mostly False is a statement that “contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.”
That fits here.