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Afghans coming to U.S. are being screened, Homeland chief says

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at a news briefing at the White House on Frday. Credit: Getty Images/Anna Moneymaker

WASHINGTON — U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday that the nearly 95,000 Afghan evacuees expected to arrive in the United States — including more than 1,000 to be placed in New York State — are undergoing a "multilayered screening and vetting process."

Mayorkas, speaking to Newsday and other regional news outlets in a phone briefing to discuss the massive Afghan resettlement effort, said a network of federal agencies are involved in the screening effort, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Counterterrorism Center.

"All of us screen and vet individuals," Mayorkas said. "If someone fails these checks while they are still overseas, they will not be permitted to board a flight to the United States."

Mayorkas said all Afghan evacuees undergo COVID-19 testing and those who meet the current criteria for vaccination are required to receive a vaccine against the virus.

The secretary’s remarks come as New York and 46 other states prepare to aid in the resettlement of thousands of Afghans who aided the U.S. military and American groups during the nearly 20-year war. Nearly 130,000 people were airlifted out of Afghanistan last month, but the Biden administration has faced ongoing criticism over the chaotic withdrawal that left many U.S.-allied Afghans stranded in Afghanistan despite being granted special U.S. visas.

As many as 1,143 Afghans are expected to be relocated to New York State over the next six months, according to figures provided by the U.S. State Department to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office last week.

The majority of those individuals will be relocated upstate to Albany, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Utica, but at least 240 will be placed in New York City. State officials have told Newsday there are no plans to resettle Afghan evacuees to Long Island.

Federal officials late last month started preparing Kennedy Airport in Queens as a possible processing facility for arriving evacuees. Asked by Newsday about the status of that site, a Biden administration official said on Friday the site was not currently serving as a port of entry. Instead, the official said, Dulles Airport in Virginia and Philadelphia International Airport are the two current ports of entry with the possibility of adding additional sites "at a later point."

The United States last week suspended flights transporting Afghan nationals from U.S. military bases in Germany and Qatar after six Afghans who arrived in the United States were diagnosed with measles. The administration has not indicated when the flights will resume. A senior administration official told reporters last week the United States is in the process of ensuring Afghan evacuees currently held in a series of bases across Europe and the Middle East are vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox.

President Joe Biden’s point person on the Afghan resettlement effort, former Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, speaking to reporters on the same call as Mayorkas, said he is "hopeful" Congress will authorize $6.4 billion in federal spending to aid in the resettlement effort, including money for states aiding the evacuees.

The $6.4 billion request remains tied up in a massive federal spending plan yet to be approved by the U.S. Senate. The House passed a version of the government spending bill on Tuesday, but in the 50-50 split Senate, Democrats need 10 Republican votes for the measure to pass, and so far Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said Republicans are not on board with the plan.

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