Rep. McCaul Presses Secretary Blinken on Evacuation Plan for Afghans Awaiting Special Immigrant VisasPress Release
Washington, D.C.-In his opening remarks at today’s hearing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican McCaul highlighted his strong objection to the Biden Administration waiving sanctions on Nord Stream 2AG, the need to honor our promises to those who helped us in Afghanistan, the importance of working across the aisle to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable, and his concerns about the famine conditions in Ethiopia threatening millions of people in Tigray.
During questioning, Rep. McCaul pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken on whether the State Department is looking for places to evacuate those Afghans awaiting special immigrant visas.
“The military retrograde in Afghanistan could be complete as early as July, according to latest reports. And I’ve been told by your senior officials in your department that there’s no way the special immigrant visas can be processed that quickly…According to No One Left Behind, there have been targeted 300 killings of these people since 2014. And if we abandon them, we are signing their death warrants.”
The Secretary did not provide a direct answer. Rep. McCaul released a statement after his exchange with Secretary Blinken expressing his frustration the Secretary did not provide more information on this incredibly time sensitive issue.
– Transcript –
Lead Republican McCaul: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Mr. Secretary. Last month, Chairman Meeks and I sent you a letter on Special Immigration Visas regarding Afghans who’ve worked with us over the years. General Milley’s quote, “we must remain faithful to those Afghans who risked their lives to help the United States troops and personnel.” And he said, “we must do what is necessary to ensure their protection and if necessary, get them out of the country.”
“Just last week, Secretary Austin ordered General McKenzie to develop a plan to evacuate these people. But we need a place to temporarily house them while their visas finish processing, which falls within the State Department. And most importantly, we need President Biden, as Commander in Chief, to give the order.
“The military retrograde in Afghanistan could be complete as early as July, according to latest reports. And I’ve been told by your senior officials in your department that there’s no way the special immigrant visas can be processed that quickly. So that means that these people have a bull’s-eye and a target on their back from the moment we leave the country.
“According to No One Left Behind, there have been targeted 300 killings of these people since 2014. And if we abandon them, we are signing their death warrants. Have you spoken to any country about temporarily housing these Afghan’s to process these visas? An if so, which countries and where are you in negotiations?”
Secretary Blinken: “Thank you very much for that question. I appreciate it because I share both your concern and commitment to those who put their lives on the line to help us in Afghanistan – our diplomats, our military. Let me do two things, if I can. First, in direct response your question, we are looking very actively at every possible contingency to make sure that we can accommodate and care for those who have helped us and are seeking to leave. Whether that is through the special immigrant visa program, whether that is through the refugee program, whether that is through parole, other things, we are looking very actively at everything.
“Let me just quickly tell you where I think we are with the special immigrant visa program itself. There are about 18,000 so-called principal applicants in the system. Of the 18,000, half are at the very early stages, by which I mean they have expressed interest, they have not submitted applications or forms, but we think they’re interested.
“Then there is another 9,000 who are much further along. Of those 9,000, about 30 percent are waiting for the so-called chief of mission approval. That is the approval that the chief of mission gives to determine they are in fact eligible for the program. Once that determination is made, they move into the immigration process, that is where another 20 percent of them actively are.
“We have backlogs, when it came to chief of mission approval, we had a backlog of about 5,500. We have surged staff, mostly here in Washington, because a lot of this work is actually done in Washington. We are adding by the end of July, at least 50 people here in D.C. To expedite this, we expect to be able to clear the backlog over the next few months, at about the pace of 1,000 a month.
“We have also had an immigration backlog. Those who are past chief of mission approval and are in the immigration process. That is because we have had challenges interviewing folks in Kabul. And that was slowed by COVID. We have cleared that backlog. It was about 1,400, we are scheduling appointments in regular order.
“We have a quarterly report coming to you that will show the progress. The current cap, as you know, for special immigrant visas from Afghanistan is 26,000, that is what’s been allocated. We have used 15,000, so we have about 11,000 left to accommodate, potentially, these 18,000 if everyone who has expressed interest actually follows through. So we are asking for your support to add 8,000 to our cap, so we can accommodate everyone and then be able to come back to you if we need more.”
LR McCaul: “If I could just reclaim my time. And I feel very confident on the National Defense Authorization, we will increase that cap that you are requesting. Again though, we only have two months before the DOD is completely out of Afghanistan, leaving these people behind. Is the Department considering a process to get them out of the country, while these claims are being processed? That I have been told could take up to a year, or two possibly.”
Secretary Blinken: “Two things quickly. We are considering every option, yes. Second, I do not think that the fact that our forces are withdrawing – one, we are not withdrawing, we are staying, the embassy is staying, our programs are staying, we are working to make sure other partners stay, we are building all of that up. And whatever happens in Afghanistan, if there is a significant deterioration in security, that could well happen – we have discussed this before. I do not think it is going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday.
“So, I would not necessarily equate the departure of forces in July, August, or by early September with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation.”
LR McCaul: “Well, I think you are going to have a humanitarian crisis and a refugee crisis, and I think humanitarian parole is something, as you mentioned, we should be looking at as well. I yield back.”