By Veronica Stracqualursi and Lauren Fox, CNN
A House Republican on Friday publicly pushed back against the Biden administration’s plan to resettle Afghan nationals in his home state of Montana and suggested that the refugees are not properly vetted, despite repeated assurances from the Biden administration that they are.
The comments by Rep. Matt Rosendale — in which he at times uses incendiary language to suggest that settling 75 people in his state amounts to “flooding” — underscores the political challenges facing the administration as it begins to resettle more than 60,000 Afghan refugees inside the US over the next several weeks.
“I strongly oppose the resettlement of these Afghan nationals in Montana,” Rosendale said in a Twitter thread, arguing that the Biden administration’s scramble to evacuate thousands of Afghans “has made proper vetting of these individuals near impossible.”
The Biden administration’s “incompetence” in its “disastrously mismanaged withdrawal” from Afghanistan, Rosendale argued, should not be used “to justify flooding our communities with unvetted refugees.” He also advocated that the US “should try and settle these individuals in other countries around Afghanistan that share their values and culture, especially if we can not ensure proper vetting.”
“As elected officials, it is our duty to protect the citizens we represent — and I will not allow this Administration to compromise the safety of Montanans,” added Rosendale, who was among the 16 House Republicans who in July opposed legislation to expand and streamline the Special Immigrant Visa program, which is designed to help resettle Afghan translators and other personnel who worked with the US military.
It’s unclear what, if anything, Rosendale can do as a member of Congress to stop the resettlement, which has the public support of the state’s Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. A message left with Rosendale’s office was not immediately returned.
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the president and CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a faith-based non-profit that helps resettle refugees, rejected Rosendale’s claims that the refugees are dangerous.
“These children and families are not terrorists — they feared terrorism and fled the Taliban,” O’Mara Vignarajah said in a statement. “These people faced danger precisely because they share our values, and to suggest otherwise is deeply disrespectful to those who risked their lives on our nation’s behalf.”
The Biden administration has stressed that Afghan refugees who arrived in the US have been thoroughly vetted, and intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals have been conducting security screenings for all Afghans permitted to enter the US.
Afghans evacuees are screened more than once — both at an intermediate country where they’re taken ahead of arriving in the US and upon arrival in the US, according to officials and experts.
Although the Biden administration’s plan to quickly evacuate Afghan applicants who have SIV status had widespread support on Capitol Hill and in public polling over the summer, the more than 60,000 Afghans being resettled in the US also include SIV applicants and those who were deemed at risk of Taliban reprisals.
The 75 refugees will be placed in Missoula and could start arriving as soon as next month, the Daily Montanan reported. Gianforte on Thursday welcomed “our fully-vetted Afghan allies who worked alongside us, have left their homes in the face of the Taliban’s reemerging, merciless terror, and seek freedom and safety,” according to local reports.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan had previously said that background checks for Afghan evacuees arriving in the US include both biographic information and biometric vetting, such as voiceprints, iris scans, palm prints and facial photos.
A lengthy multi-step process also exists for Afghan SIV applicants to apply for visas to the US. To help with the backlog of applicants caused by the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country, the Biden administration increased State Department personnel to process visas and had the Department of Homeland Security work overtime on security checks.
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CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.