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GOP lawmakers seek answers on 'hundreds' of Afghan refugees walking off US bases

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Republican lawmakers are seeking answers from the Biden administration after a report revealed "hundreds" of Afghan refugees are leaving U.S. military bases before going through the resettlement program.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and 15 other Senate Republicans sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin raising concerns over "gaps in security and criminal vetting" for the approximately 65,000 refugees who were flown out of Afghanistan to the U.S. after the Taliban took control of the country.

"The Biden Administration's security vetting procedures to clear Afghans entering the country remain unclear and incomplete, and, unless change, are insufficient to preserve the safety of the American homeland," the senators wrote.

As a consequence of the Biden administration's hasty and chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, thousands of refugees were allowed into the United States under a temporary status called "humanitarian parole." These refugees were first relocated to military bases in the U.S., where they are supposed to be connected with resettlement services to begin a new life in America.

However, Reuters reported Friday that hundreds of Afghan refugees are walking off U.S. bases before completing the voluntary resettlement process. At least 700 "independent departures" have been recorded by officials. While these individuals are not violating any law and are free to leave the base, the senators wrote to the Biden administration with their concerns over security. They are requesting that the Biden administration temporarily pause refugee resettlement "except for fully-vetted Afghans holding Special Immigration Visas" and pause resettlement of Afghans already paroled into the U.S. until the Defense Department Inspector General completes a review of the vetting process.

"The vetting process must ensure the security, medical and criminal screening of each Afghan seeking admittance into the United States," the senators wrote.

Fox News first reported the letter from Ernst and the other Republicans.

In a statement to Fox News, a DHS spokesperson said all Afghan refugees at U.S. military bases underwent screening before arriving in the U.S.

"Afghan guests who receive required vaccinations, complete their medical screening, and await their relocation arrangements at safe havens are eligible for various forms of assistance, which is why an overwhelming majority of Afghans remain at safe havens across the country," the spokesperson said. "If they choose to leave the military base, they are responsible for completing the medical requirements on their own, may forfeit other benefits, and could be in violation of their parole.

"Before arriving at safe havens, these individuals underwent a multi-layer screening and vetting process involving biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense, as well as, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and additional Intelligence Community (IC) partners before they were permitted entry into the United States," the spokesperson continued. "Furthermore, those with pending immigration cases are required to maintain contact with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to keep their pending case in good status."

According to DHS, each arrival from Afghanistan is tested for COVID-19 and vaccination is a condition of their humanitarian parole.

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