FIRST ON FOX: Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., has introduced legislation to stop a Biden administration move exempting some Afghan evacuees, including those who worked as a civil servant during the Taliban regime, from terror-related entry restrictions.
The “Stopping Taliban Operatives from Penetrating (STOP) Act” would nix directives issued in June to exempt certain Afghans, who were evacuated amid the Taliban takeover last summer, from terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds (TRIG).
The exemptions included those who worked as civil servants in the Taliban-era of 1996-2001 and after August 15, 2021, those who supported U.S. military interests and “individuals who provided insignificant or certain limited material support to a designated terrorist organization.”
DHS argued that civil servants could include doctors and teachers, and for “limited material support” gave the examples of paying tolls to pass through checkpoints or paying for utilities or to obtain a passport — given the ubiquitous presence of the Taliban in Afghan life.
The administration has said that all Afghans undergo multi-layered and “rigorous” vetting across multiple databases — and that only those who clear checks can be eligible for an exemption.
But the directives exacerbated long-standing Republican concerns about the vetting process of the tens of thousands of Afghans being brought to the U.S.
FBI Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers this month that the agency is “actively” investigating individuals deemed to be national security threats and suspected terrorists who entered the U.S. — after a whistleblower told Republicans that 324 individuals with derogatory information had entered the U.S. A Pentagon report had previously put that number at 50.
A memo viewed by Fox News Digital in April appeared to acknowledge concerns about potential abuse by those who have deeper terror ties, warning that DHS “must ensure appropriate mechanisms are in place to ensure individuals do not obfuscate their affiliation with a Tier 1 or Tier 2 foreign terrorist organization by attempting to shape a narrative that would qualify for an exemption.”
“President Biden has repeatedly told the American people that the tens of thousands of Afghans being released into our communities were fully vetted and worked directly with U.S. personnel on sensitive military, diplomatic and intelligence operations. We now know that was a lie,” Tiffany said in a statement on the legislation.
“The Biden administration has now gone a step further by opening a massive new loophole to bring in even more Afghans – including those who were on the Taliban payroll and individuals that provided support to known terrorist organizations. This isn’t just dishonest, it’s dangerous,” he said. “From their failed open-borders policy to the botched Afghanistan withdrawal, President Biden has continued to put American safety and security and risk. It is time to start putting our national security first, and the STOP Act will do just that.”
The administration preempted criticism of the move by highlighting that previous TRIG exemptions were given in 2007, 2014 and 2019 — where the Trump administration exempted applicants who worked with militias in the Lebanese Civil War.
“Doctors, teachers, engineers, and other Afghans, including those who bravely and loyally supported U.S. forces on the ground in Afghanistan at great risk to their safety, should not be denied humanitarian protection and other immigration benefits due to their inescapable proximity to war or their work as civil servants,” Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement in June. “These exemptions will allow eligible individuals who pose no national security or public safety risk to receive asylum, refugee status, or other legal immigration status, demonstrating the United States’ continued commitment to our Afghan allies and their family members.”
But it has done little to blunt Republican criticism. Last week, multiple senators led by Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., wrote to the Departments of Homeland Security and State seeking clarification about the exemption for “individuals who provided insignificant or certain limited material support to a designated terrorist organization,” and noted that it did not limit the power to Afghan evacuees alone.
“Indeed, it is not limited to certain conflicts, terrorist organizations, geographic regions, or time periods at all,” they say.