More than 700 Afghan refugees currently in the United States have left the military bases they’ve been evacuated to without intent to return, it was revealed Friday.
The number of ‘independent departures,’ or refugees leaving to start a new life, is more than 300 at Fort Bliss, Texas alone, sources familiar with the data told Reuters.
Roughly 53,000 Afghans were brought to eight different bases across the US after being rescued from Kabul.
US officials insist that the refugees leaving now have been thoroughly screened before getting into the country.
But there have been questions from Republican lawmakers over how well people are being vetted after scandals primarily at Fort Bliss and Fort McCoy, Wisconsin.
Donald Trump released a statement on Thursday blasting Democrats’ government funding bill and claiming it would give ‘unlimited money to random, unscreened, unvetted Afghan nationals.’
‘We’ve already seen some of the horrible assaults and sex crimes that have taken place. But these terrible assaults will just be the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming if this isn’t shut down,’ he said.
Last week Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) wrote a letter to President Joe Biden concerning ‘credible reports’ of child brides being brought to US military bases.
‘These reports about trafficking and the horrific treatment of Afghan girls are in addition to reports that an Afghan male convicted of rape who had previously been deported was brought back during the evacuation,’ they wrote.
‘Such failures are why a group of Senators are demanding answers about what steps are being taken to vet individuals evacuated from Afghanistan.’
It’s not illegal for Afghans who have been brought to US bases to head to other parts of the country, according to immigration experts, and military officials don’t have any authority to keep them there.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declined to comment on the 700 figure but said those who’ve left ‘generally’ have family members or friends within the US.
But immigration officials worry leaving before completing the US resettlement pipeline could cause issues for the Afghans themselves.
‘This could lead to years and years of terrible immigration status problems,’ a US Citizenship and Immigration Services official told Reuters.
It’s costing them benefits such as expedited work permits and could create legal problems.
On base they can get their immigration paperwork processed also get cash to help pay for travel to their next destination.
A document titled ‘Departee Information’ warns Afghan refugees to think about those perks before leaving military bases.
‘Once you leave this base, you forfeit these advantages and may not return,’ it states.
Senator Cruz said as early as August that refugees at Fort Bliss take Ubers to downtown El Paso.
‘The leadership at Fort Bliss told me about one of the refugees who called an Uber and took an Uber to downtown El Paso and they are not detaining anyone there so if 10,000 refugees arrive there, every one of those 10,000 can choose to leave tomorrow,’ Cruz said after an aerial tour of the base.
Fort Bliss came under scrutiny earlier this month after a female soldier was allegedly assaulted by several male Afghan refugees.