Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Afghan Arrival Processing
11:35 A.M. EDT
MODERATOR: Thank you, Operator. And thank you all for joining us this morning. Today's call is going to be on background, attributed to a "senior administration official." Our speaker today is [senior administration official].
Over to you. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks. And thank you all for joining this call. I know folks have a lot of questions about a lot of things -- about the President's discussion with G7 partners, our timing for military drawdown in Afghanistan, other issues related to operations in Afghanistan.
The focus today is on one particular part of this really massive global effort: It's to offer you all a brief sense of the administration's plans to relocate Afghans at-risk to the United States. That includes our Defense Department is using a number of military bases around the country to temporarily house SIV -- Special Immigrant Visa -- applicants and other vulnerable Afghans.
So I'll say a few words on all that, and then I'll look forward to your questions on that relocation process.
You heard the President say this: We are moving thousands of people, every day, out of Afghanistan and to safety in what is one of the biggest airlifts in world history. As part of this operation -- which is a military, a diplomatic, a security, a humanitarian operation -- these individuals are being flown to third-party countries in Europe and Asia that have agreed to serve as transit hubs. That's before these individuals -- I'm sorry -- agreed to serve as transit hubs before these individuals undergo robust security processing and fly onward to the United States.
That process involves biometric and biographic security screenings conducted by our intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals who are working quite literally around the clock to vet all of these Afghans before they're allowed into the United States.
Let me get a little more granular on categories of people who have been evacuated from Kabul.
First category: American citizens and LPRs, or green card holders.
Second category: SIV applicants and their families. So these are our Afghan allies who bravely worked with U.S. service members as translators and in other roles, who stood with us side by side, who risked their lives to help us, and who were far enough along in their SIV application process that we are bringing them here.
And then the third category are other vulnerable Afghans that we have identified.
To prepare for their arrival, we have undertaken a range of measures. We have undertaken extensive COVID and other public health precautions in close coordination with CDC, with HHS, and with local public health officials. Everyone -- that's American citizens, that's LPRs, that's Afghan nationals -- will be tested for COVID upon arrival in the United States.
We're also in the process of figuring out exactly how and when we'll offer vaccinations to those arriving from Afghanistan. And, obviously, the goal is to get that process finalized and up and running as quickly as possible, and we expect to do exactly that.
After getting tested at the airport, American citizens and LPRs can head to their onward destination -- home -- while others -- everyone else heads to those military bases I mentioned before. There, they receive a full medical screening, and they receive a variety of healthcare services and assistance in applying for things like work authorizations, before moving on to their next destination.
Each of those arriving families will be connected with one of the refugee resettlement organizations that our government partners with and that do such extraordinary work to help individuals, exactly like this, begin and settle into new lives in America.
Look, this is a complex process overall, and all of us in government are aware that the steps I'm describing follow a harrowing journey here.
Our goal as a government is to safely and efficiently welcome these individuals while taking all appropriate safety and public health measures.
We are grateful to the national security professionals who are doing this work and to the resettlement organizations who work tirelessly on behalf of these arriving individuals and others similarly situated.
All of us who work on this are also truly moved by the generosity of so many Americans who are volunteering, donating, or otherwise welcoming these Afghans to the United States.
With that, let me pause and hand things back to you.
MODERATOR: Thanks. And we're happy to open the line for questions now if you'd like to submit one.
Q: Hi. Thanks. I just have two questions. First of all, can you provide numbers on how many Afghans have arrived to date? And what -- you know, if there's a breakdown you could provide in the SIV category, the P2 category, and then other Afghans who don't meet either SIV or P2, that would be great.
And if you could just speak to the legal status of the individuals who are in, you know, the SIV pipeline but haven't completed their processing. You know, what will their status be until their SIV applications are processed? We've heard reports of -- anecdotally -- of P2 eligible people or P2 applicants being brought to the U.S. What is their legal status?
And then are there at-risk Afghans who don't meet either of those categories being brought to the U.S., and what is their legal status? Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for the questions. So, let me start with the first one.
The numbers are fluid here. That is a -- that is not a bug, but that's, in some ways, a feature of an operation that is moving extraordinarily swiftly at various stages: getting people out of that airport in Kabul to the various transit points, and, for those who pass the security vetting I was describing, proceed onward to the United States.
So, I don't have exact numbers for you right now or a breakdown. Even if I did, it would shift as this process continues. But as I say, that's by design. That's because there's a sense that there are just partners and other vulnerable Afghans in harm's way, and we are moving as swiftly as we can to get them out of harm's way.
On the second question: So, the legal status depends -- as your question indicated -- a bit on people in different categories. For those for whom we can accelerate that SIV processing that was already in train -- that was already being accelerated -- the couple of months even before this one were the fastest in processing SIVs [in] the history of the program.
But as we now obviously accelerate further this work, given the developments on the ground, there are a range of things being used. For those who can reach that full SIV status, obviously that gives them the visa that the program was designed to provide.
In other instances, the Secretary of Homeland Security is using his parole authority, including his ability to oppose particular conditions of parole on those arriving to ensure that those who are reaching here are doing so, obviously with appropriate legal status.
Back to you.
Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. Can you hear me okay?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, I hear you just fine. Thanks.
Q: Great. Two questions. First of all, we heard anecdotally that given the chaos at the Kabul airport, that there are some Afghans without papers, without ID who are just being rushed onto the planes. And I'm just wondering if you know, are there individuals in that category? And what happens to them once they get to the transit point? How do you figure out who they are?
And secondly, I don't know if this is in your portfolio, but can you speak a little bit to the conditions of the transit points, particularly like Qatar? There are lots of credible reports (inaudible) are and problems there. Thanks.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks for the questions. Happy to address them both. Maybe I'll go in reverse order.
Look, we've seen indications of conditions in Qatar and, to the extent, relevant other transit points. The goal here, of course, is to first get these individuals out of real danger, out of harm's way, and to treat them humanely, respectfully -- to welcome those who passed through our vetting and other processes to these shores, where appropriate.
So that is the overriding goal of everyone involved, including those on the ground in places like Qatar, working in very challenging conditions with very large numbers of people.
Our Defense Department and others are working extremely hard to ensure that food, water, medical services -- where needed -- are being provided. This is a challenge. There's a reason it's one of the largest operations of this sort in human history. It's a challenge, and we are adjusting and improving as we go.
But people are very sensitive to the core mission, which is to treat these human beings humanely, considerately, address the needs they have for nutrition and health along the way. And where we've needed to surge resources or make improvements, we've been doing that. And the Defense Department, in particular, has been working hard to do that.
On your first question, it's worth emphasizing here that the security screening -- the vetting that I was talking about earlier -- that happens at the transit hubs and it happens before individuals are allowed into the United States. So that's, in particular, with the biometric and biographic security screenings that our colleagues in the intelligence community and law enforcement and other counterterrorism components of our government are doing.
So that is where we are doing that work to ensure that however it is -- whatever is happening on the ground at HKIA, before individuals are allowed into the United States, they receive that security vetting.
Back to you.
Q: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. I'm wondering if you can talk a bit about the timelines that we're seeing or that we'll be able to expect in the coming weeks -- both the timeline for Afghans who are in these third-party countries going through that screening, how long is that going to expect to take them to be able -- before they are flown into the U.S.? And then also the timelines of people who are in the U.S. at these military installations, about how long will they be there effectively before they are connected with these refugee organizations and resettled elsewhere in the country.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for that question. And my core answer here is that this is fluid, and fluid both because of the large numbers that we are quite deliberately trying to move through this process, but also fluid because we're improving as we go and because we are figuring out how to improve efficiencies and address any obstacles as we do this, even as we also bring online new transit hubs, secure agreements with new partners -- add to the complexity of the operation, but also add to what it can achieve and what it can do for even more people.
So, I don't have an exact timeline at particular transit hubs or at particular military installations in the U.S. as people arrive here.
I will say this -- couple things on it: One, we are very conscious of not overburdening any particular military installation or any particular community around it here in the United States. That's critical. And so, we are working to be as expeditious as possible in moving people not just in, but then also out of those military bases where they've achieved the steps I articulated before, including the necessary medical screening.
And then we are working to ensure that the transit hubs are being run as efficiently as possible, even as we also deal with the concerns that earlier question got to about the nature of conditions there.
Look, the plan is not for people to be at military installations in the United States for months or anything like that. The plan is to move people efficiently, getting done the steps in the process we need to get done, and being quite conscious that there are American communities around these bases, and we don't want to overburden any one of them.
Back to you.
Q: If I could follow up on that. You mentioned not wanting to overburden the military installations. Are you expecting, at this point, to need to ask any other installations, aside from the four that were previously announced, to assist with this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So, the Defense Department is exploring that. It is on the table to consider whether that would help ensure that we can continue to move this process forward. I don't know where they will land on that, but it is -- as you say, there are four that are being utilized, and it is possible that that number will increase.
Q: Hi, thanks for having this call. Can you hear me?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hey there. I hear you.
Q: Okay. Thanks for having this call. Is there a potential for the U.S. to exceed the cap of the 34,500 for the SIVs and the 62,500 for the refugees?
And if that does happen, so what would then -- would the administration need to go to Congress to raise the caps, or could they borrow from the refugee (inaudible), sort of borrow for the future?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, thanks for the question. So, starting point for this one, as for a couple other questions, is that this is fluid. But as I mentioned in one earlier answer, the question of legal status is one that we are working through in real time, ensuring, of course, that anyone gets here is -- has an appropriate status.
The overarching goal of this mission is to get people out of harm's way, and again, where they pass our medical screening, where they pass our security checks, and get them resettled successfully here in the United States.
And so, what adjustments need to be made to continue to achieve that mission, I think we will continue to work through. We've already worked through it in various ways over the past couple of weeks. But that's the overriding thrust of the mission. People are conscious of using authorities that are available for circumstances like this, including, as I mentioned before, Secretary Mayorkas's parole authority, which includes, itself, conditions of parole that can be attached where appropriate. And we're figuring out which categories line up and align with which legal status.
Q: Hi, thanks for doing this. I have two questions. You mentioned earlier that Secretary Mayorkas is exercising his authority to parole some of these individuals. Can you say who is being paroled? Or can you provide some examples of some of these who would need to be paroled, who doesn't have a visa to come into the U.S.?
And I know you couldn't provide figures on how many SIVs have been admitted under Operation Allies Refuge, but can you say how many are currently being housed at the Pentagon locations?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yeah, let me work backwards. I don't have a number for you on that second question. Even if I did, it would be outdated probably by the by the time we wrap the call because this is designed to move quickly and is moving quickly.
On the first question, just to give an example: Individuals who are in the SIV pipeline, who have been -- who have applied for that program but who's -- who haven't finished that pipeline, that is an example of the type of situation where bringing someone into the United States, using that parole authority I mentioned, could be appropriate.
Q: Are you using parole for anyone who doesn't have an SIV application?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I don't want say that because there are people with different legal statuses here. So we obvious- -- first of all, we have American citizens coming in. We have LPRs. We have people who may have active visas of various sorts.
So, I don't want to categorize too categorically here, but I will say that that authority -- that parole authority -- is one that provides some flexibility for individuals for whom there is not a relevant legal status, and, in appropriate cases where people pass the security check I mentioned, that parole authority -- again, with accompanying conditions of parole, where appropriate -- is one of the things in play here as people enter the United States.
Q: Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks.
MODERATOR: All right, that concludes our call, everyone. Friendly reminder that we are on background, attributed to a "senior administration official." Thanks all for joining.
11:54 A.M. EDT
Joseph R. Biden, Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on Afghan Arrival Processing Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/352495