Panel Transcript: Afghans in the US

Looking back, looking forward

By Mark Krikorian, Steven A. Camarota, Nayla Rush, and Dan Cadman on September 16, 2021


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A Profile of Foreign-born Afghans

Operation Allies Refuge: Who Exactly Was on Those Planes?

Event Summary

The Center for Immigration Studies hosted a 10 a.m. EDT panel on Tuesday, September 14, to discuss the immigration implications of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the decision to admit over 100,000 immigrants.

Center for Immigration Studies experts discussed a new report  by Dr. Steven Camarota, the Center’s director of research, which provides a detailed demographic look at Afghans in the United States, providing insight into how the new Afghans immigrants are likely to fare.

Panelist Dan Cadman, a Center fellow and 30-year veteran of INS and ICE, addressed the security, fraud, and health issues stemming from a large-scale admission of people from Afghanistan.

Dr. Nayla Rush, a senior researcher at the Center and refugee expert, discussed the potential number of Afghans who may arrive in the U.S. for permanent resettlement and the visa programs that will be used, and how the Biden administration is going outside of congressional visa programs.

The panel was moderated by Mark Krikorian, the Center’s executive director, who sees this crisis as an opportunity to craft new refugee policies which will be more consistent with our national interest and help more individuals in need.


Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies.

Steven Camarota, Director of Research

Nayla Rush, Senior Researcher

Dan Cadman, Fellow

MARK KRIKORIAN: Welcome. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

We’re doing this panel today on Afghan refugees, both looking at the Afghan refugees who are already living here and have lived here for a number of years; and then also what are the prospects for, you know, future flows; and also discuss issues related to vetting those who are coming from the ones we have evacuated from Afghanistan and, frankly, vetting those that will be coming in the future, because this – the evacuation from Afghanistan may have been a one-time thing that ended at the end of August but there are going to be considerable future flows, presumably, as other Afghans get out of Afghanistan to neighboring countries and maybe – who knows what’s going to happen – come directly from Afghanistan itself.

So to talk about some of these issues we’ve got three experts here at the Center.

We’re going to start with Steven Camarota, the director of research here, who has a paper out which is on our website,, looking at the socioeconomic characteristics of Afghans who are already here. He’ll talk about that, give sort of a general look at, you know, education, employment, welfare use, that sort of thing.

Then Nayla Rush, a senior researcher here at the Center, is going to talk about the numbers of people who are on their way or who have already been brought here as a result of the evacuation – how many of them, what are the different categories they come here under or will – you know, will get – will get, what statuses they’ll get when they get here.

And then, finally, we’re going to go to Dan Cadman, who is a fellow here at the Center, a veteran INS/ICE officer and senior manager. And he’s going to be talking about some of the vetting and security issues, stuff that he was involved in and is intimately familiar with.

And then we’re going to take questions for those who want to submit them. You can submit them to – via our website at or, if you’re so inclined, you can message me on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @MarkSKrikorian, and you could also follow me there if you have a taste for snark and sarcasm.

So we’re going to start with Steve, who’s going to talk about the Afghans already here kind of looking back at Afghan immigration. And then Nayla and Dan will be kind of looking forward to future Afghan flows. Steve?

STEVEN CAMAROTA: Thank you, Mark.

Now, as Mark’s indicated, the crisis in Afghanistan and the decision to admit tens of thousands of Afghan nationals to the United States in an emergency situation has prompted a lot of interest in, well, how do Afghan immigrants do or even how many are already here. And we can gain some insight on that question by looking at the data that government has collected.

The report I’m going to discuss today, it mostly all comes from what’s called the American Community Survey collected by the Census Bureau. The analysis was done by myself and my colleague Karen Zeigler. And that report in full is available on our website. It mainly just focuses on numbers.

So, overall, in a nutshell, the population of Afghans has grown rapidly. It tends to be concentrated in a few states and metropolitan areas. And we also found that a large fraction, but by no means all, struggle in the United States.

So, just briefly going over the numbers, the number of Afghan immigrants in the United States has really taken off in the last 10 years. In the 2010 – in 2010, it was about 55,000. The latest data from the Census Bureau for 2019 – and most all the data I’ll be talking about today is from 2019 – is 133,000, so about two-and-a-half times or two-and-a-half-fold increase just in 10 years. That’s several times faster than the overall immigrant population grew.

And when I use the term “immigrant” here, let me say that I’m defining it sort of colloquially, not the technical definition of someone who has a green card. An immigrant in this context means the foreign-born, people who are not U.S. citizens at birth, and it would include naturalized citizens, green-card holders, temporary visitors, and even the illegal immigrants that are picked up by the Census Bureau in its American Community Survey.

So where do they live? Well, they tend to be concentrated. The top three states of settlement are California, Virginia, and Texas. They have the lion’s share. The top metro areas are Washington, D.C. – you know, I mean, that includes Maryland as well – and also San Francisco and Sacramento. Why that’s important is we would expect that the newly-arrived Afghans, a very large share will end up in the D.C. area or California as well. So the biggest impact is likely to be in those areas because there’s a large body of research showing that if you want to know where immigrants this year are going to go, it’s where immigrants went last year. Yes, there are always new areas of settlement and immigrants do tend to move to new places over time, but in general migration is driven often by social networks, and those social networks tend to draw people to wherever the existing population is.

Now, when we look at the overall Afghan immigrant population in the United States, it’s overwhelmingly been allowed in for humanitarian reasons. That is about 79 percent of all visas given to – or I should say green cards, that’s permanent residency – in the last four decades have been for humanitarian reasons. That is, they’re either refugees, or people who applied for asylum once here, or the new category SIV visas, which is for people with some association with the U.S. government and they’re now in danger in Afghanistan so we let them in. And we’ve been letting them in in sizeable numbers since 2008 for that.

For all intents and purposes – they are different categories; we have experts here who could go into more detail – but they’re all basically humanitarian immigrants. And for example, they all have the same welfare eligibility, so they’re similar in that sense.

One of the other things the data show is that Afghans tend to have relatively high rates of citizenship, and this is true even though a large fraction are recent arrivals. As I said, population has grown a lot. Their citizenship rates, at 81 percent, are a good deal higher than that of immigrants overall, and that’s only looking at people who’ve been here for five years or more.

Now, one of the key things we found was that Afghan immigrants tend to be significantly less educated than the native born. Interestingly, we also found that their education levels have fallen both in absolute terms and relative to the native born as well. Just to give you one example, the share with a bachelor’s degree was about 30 percent in 2000 and now it’s about 26 percent, and at the same time it increased for the native born from 27 to 35 percent. So if we look at adults, we find that natives became significantly more educated over the last two decades but the Afghan population actually became somewhat less educated. At the bottom end, about 22 percent of Afghans don’t have a high school degree, didn’t graduate high school – that’s what they told survey data takers – and that’s about three times the rate for the native born. About 7 percent of native-born adults have not graduated high school.

So we see this big fall in education. And that has lots of consequences because, in a nutshell, education is probably the single best predictor of how you’re going to do in the United States, whether we look at your income, poverty rates, welfare use, what kind of job you hold, and what have you.

And as a consequence – partly, anyway – of their lower levels of education, Afghans tend to have much higher rates of poverty and near poverty. Very roughly speaking, Afghan rates are about double that of the native born. So about 25 percent of people who live in Afghan households – which is, essentially, Afghan immigrants and their U.S.-born children – about 25 percent live in poverty and 51 percent live near poverty.

Now, the reason their poverty rates are high partly reflects their education level, but another interesting fact about Afghans is that the rates of work among Afghan women is extremely low. So Afghan households, not surprisingly, are much larger on average, but they don’t have more workers on average than does the native born. As a consequence, they have less income coming in, and so a much larger end up in poverty or near poverty for the Afghans. Again, rate’s about twice.

Now, that doesn’t mean that Afghan men don’t work. Their rates of work are as high or higher than the native born. But Afghan women have much lower rates of work, and that tends to reduce the overall household income.

Now, partly because their income is so low, a very large fraction of Afghans access the welfare system. Sixty-five percent of all households in 2019 accessed one of the welfare programs that we can measure with the American Community Survey. That means they get cash, someone in the household is on Medicaid, or someone gets food stamps, also referred to as the SNAP program. That is much, much higher than the rate for the native born, which is around 24 percent.

If we look at welfare, as well, we find very rapid increases. Back in 2010, about 50 percent of Afghan households used a major welfare program. Now it’s about 65 percent. And this data is understating welfare use, so the actual rate is probably higher.

Food-stamp use has probably increased the most. Since 2010, it’s gone from 19 percent to 35 percent for Afghan households while it actually fell for native households to 10 percent, and it was always much lower anyway.

Now, the rise in welfare use is somewhat puzzling because although Afghans do have much higher poverty and much higher rates of near poverty, they always have. In fact, their economic condition hasn’t worsened, but their use of welfare has. And this likely reflects the success of refugee resettlement agencies in signing Afghan immigrants up for various forms of welfare. That’s important because it probably means that future Afghan immigrants are going to feed into that same pipeline and make heavy access of these programs as well.

Now, I should say there’s just no question that Afghan immigrants admitted today will do better over time. But when we look at the progress of Afghan immigrants over time, we don’t really see convergence towards the native born. And the main reason for that is the lower levels of education.

Just to give you one example, if we look at Afghans who arrived 15 years ago, their poverty rates and near-poverty rates are still dramatically higher. If we look at those who came 15 years ago, for example, about 47 percent living near – in or near poverty, much higher than the rates for the native born. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t make progress. It just means they don’t match the native born.

So, in conclusion, I’d say many Afghan immigrants clearly struggle in the United States, and this creates significant challenges for them and for our country. Policymakers, I think, have to think long and hard about how we might better help Afghan immigrants already here or any we admit in the future to better adapt to live in the United States; or, alternative, whether it makes more sense to help them resettle in countries in their own region, help those countries accommodate Afghans, as those countries tend to be at a more similar level of development to Afghanistan and culturally more similar. So that might be very helpful.

These are some of the policy alternatives. But it’s still very likely that a lot of Afghan immigrants will be wanting to come here, a lot more people in Afghanistan, and we have to think about what’s the best way to approach that situation given what the data tell us about how they’ll do once here. Thank you.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve.

And, basically, to, you know, sort of transition to the Afghans – the Afghan flow that’s happening now and is coming in the future, Nayla Rush, whose paper on this is also – or a blog post on this is also on our site at, is going to go next. Nayla?

NAYLA RUSH: Thanks, Mark.

What I’m going to do briefly here is talk about the numbers of those we evacuated during Operation Allies Refuge from Afghanistan. The evacuees, who are they? How many came into the United States? These Afghans, in what category, what type of visas they entered the United States? And then look at future flows at what’s next.

So to start with, we know that around 124,000 were on those planes who were evacuated from Afghanistan. Mostly – over 80 percent were Afghans, and these Afghans, we don’t know exactly who – which category they belong to. In reality, what happened with the chaos and the urgency, what the U.S. government wanted to do was get on those plane(s) as many people as they could, and now they are only going through these categories to figure out exactly who is who.

But we know a few things. We know, for example, that these Afghans are not what we call Afghan allies or heroes for the most part, meaning those who helped the U.S. forces in Afghanistan at the risk of their lives. They are not those categories. They are what the U.S. officials are calling today Afghans at risk in general, and that applies to any Afghan that is perhaps not a Taliban today.

We also know that some potential terrorists were on those planes, so the U.S. evacuated some potential terrorists, Afghan terrorists. Some made it to the United States. Some did not, are still in U.S. sites abroad. I believe Dan will talk about the security issues, so I will leave it to him.

So who made it to the United States? The numbers are changing continually, but the latest numbers that I have, almost 60,000 are – made it here. Of those, over 80 percent are Afghans, 11 percent American citizens, 6 percent green-card holders. We know that most of the Afghans admitted here were paroled in, which brings me to the categories of visas or admissions we have for Afghans that we are bringing, Afghan evacuees.

So parole is for those – it’s a permission to enter the United States and stay in the United States temporarily – usually, it’s for one year – because of humanitarian reasons or public benefits. The DHS secretary has the authority to designate a population for parole, and he has done that for Afghans recently, and he gave them two years of parole. Now, parolees don’t have access to a green card, et cetera, legal status, but they can adjust their status in the United States whether through asylum or the SIV, or a family member who is here who could be, you know, a green-card holder or an American citizen.

Which brings us to the SIV. I’m sure many of you have heard the word SIVs are coming or we are accepting SIVs. What’s SIV? That’s a special immigrant program – visa program that was created just for also Iraqis before and Afghans to bring people who are at risk in their – in Afghanistan who helped the U.S. government.

So there are two SIV programs. One is the SIV for translators/interpreters. This one is capped at 50 per fiscal year and it’s ongoing.

The other one is temporary. It is – it has a limited number. It has limited spots, meaning when these availability – these spots are filled, the program ends on its own unless Congress adds more spots to it. Now, this second SIV, which is for Afghans who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. government in Afghanistan, has still some 19,000 available spots. Now, when I say 19,000, that is for principal applicants. Those who are accepted as SIV can bring their family members, and the number will add up easily to 100,000.

The last category will be refugees, refugees through the Refugee Resettlement Program. Recently, President Biden in August designated Afghans as having access to the P-2 category in the Refugee Resettlement Program. Briefly, it gives direct access to this program, expedited processes for Afghans who do not – are not eligible for SIVs.

What about the benefits of all these categories? Parolees have no benefits. They are – the benefits are very limited. They have, I think, for some 90 days some kind of help. However, SIVs have access to the Refugee Resettlement Program benefits. And as soon as they land, the first day they are in the United States they are giving – they are given free green cards. Obviously, refugees have access to all the benefits of Refugee Resettlement Program and federal benefits, and also have to apply for a green card one year after arrival.

So what next? We have still in U.S. sites abroad some 50,000 evacuees. Most of them are Afghans. So Canada agreed to resettle 5,000 of those. The United States is kind of talking to other countries so that they accept to resettle others, but my guess is most of those will come to the United States.

Now, we have to expect also that we are going to have more SIV applicants. Why? Because not everybody who worked with the U.S. forces in Afghanistan at that time beforehand, before the evacuation, wanted to leave Afghanistan. Well, now, with the Taliban rule, that changes everything, and we are going to expect more SIV applicants. However, that said, the program is limited in numbers. Again, we cannot extend it unless Congress adds to it.

The refugees, UNHCR is predicting another half-a-million Afghans wanting to leave their country and ask for refugee status. That will top to the 2.2 something billion (sic; million) refugees – Afghan refugees already in Iran and Pakistan. Now, what do we do with these half a million? Are we going to accept them all? I want to note also that the Refugee Resettlement Program is also limited in capacity. The refugee admissions follow a ceiling that is set by the president of the United States. This fiscal year, the ceiling was set to 62,500. Now, even if Biden said he’ll increase it to 125,000 or even 200,000 next year, it’s still limited in capacity. And are we going to prioritize Afghans over other nationalities and only bring Afghans? I mean, that – we haven’t done that in the past. Afghan admissions as refugees during the last decade through the Refugee Resettlement Program only total, I think, 11,000 or something.

So the last important point here is that we are left with kind of parolees who are not limited in number. However, parolees do not have access to benefits, which I said, as SIVs and refugees. So that’s an interesting move from the White House, who recently asked Congress to pass a short-term what we call CR – continuing resolution – that will allow Afghans paroled into the United States not just now, not just during this evacuation period, but since July of this year till September 2022. So it will encompass the whole fiscal 2022 year. Anybody who – any Afghan who is paroled during that time will have access to the Refugee Resettlement benefits, will have a driver’s license, IDs, and more importantly they can apply for a green card one year after arrival. Now, their family members can join at any time as parolees and have access to all these benefits, too.

So that’s an important step here. It seems like the parole, if this move – Congress accepts this, this means that parole is now perhaps the open door for Afghans who want to leave their country because refugees and SIVs are – the two programs are limited. And I will end at that.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Nayla.

So our next speaker is going to be Dan Cadman, and he’s going to talk some about how we process these people. How do we check those who have – you know, were evacuated from the Kabul airport, those who are now – who aren’t in the U.S. yet, but are at U.S. bases overseas, supposedly undergoing rigorous background checks and vetting? And then also, you know, how does that apply to the presumably many tens of thousands who have nothing to do with the evacuation, but whom we will be letting in potentially over the next, you know, several years? Dan?

DAN CADMAN: Thanks, Mark.

Let me just for a moment hone back on what Steve was saying earlier, that the number of Afghans in the United States has incremented dramatically. And if my memory is right, he said something like it’s about at 133,000 now. Well, keeping in mind that 124,000 people were just evacuated out of Afghanistan, the vast majority of whom are not U.S. citizens or green-card holders, what that functionally means is that we could potentially double the number of Afghans in the United States in a very short period of time just to take care of those who were evacuated from the country, and that doesn’t even touch upon those will be a continuing stream such as Nayla has described.

Let me also touch briefly for a minute on this idea of parole as a class. The law is very clear that parole is only supposed to be used for, you know, extreme humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis. So the notion that you can simply wave a magic wand and say it’s OK to parole tens of thousands of individuals is wrong. That, in at least my opinion and that of any number of other individuals and legal scholars, is an abuse, perhaps – abuse of the parole while perhaps illegal, but the question is who has standing to fight that. Very few people. And even more importantly, who has the political will in it at this point? I doubt there is anybody. But it is an abuse of the notion of parole, which was always intended to be a course of last resort.

For those who are watching and listening now, let me encourage them to take a look at Nayla’s most recent posting because it is an eye opener and deserves to be read very thoroughly and carefully. And let me, therefore, key on that and move along.

One of the interesting things that we’ve seen with the administration as we have gone along through this really messy and chaotic process is a kind of shifting, shifting, shifting, shifting, stepping back from their initial assertions. For instance, at first the administration was saying everyone who has been taken out of Afghanistan and brought to the U.S. has been thoroughly vetted. Well, that’s patently untrue and it’s become very evident from some of the cases that Nayla cites in her blog, and there are innumerable anecdotes that continue to confirm that that’s not true.

Most recently, a flight had at least four individuals on it who had active cases of measles, which caused a temporary shutdown of flights because of the fact that there was a pretty good possibility that in a 14-hour flight moving from Doha to the United States using recirculated air any number of other individuals were susceptible to contracting that case of measles. And not too long ago I wrote a backgrounder on some legislation that was pending in Congress, and among the things that I noted is that in Afghanistan hemorrhagic fever and tuberculosis are all too common. So you have to ask yourself: How many of the individuals that got thrown onto these flights to go to Doha or directly to Dulles, where they were dispersed to various military bases, might also have had active cases of COVID, tuberculosis, or whatever, and only after the fact will U.S. public health authorities catch on to that and be trying to take care of it? It’s a serious issue.

Also, we have heard some egregious but I think very credible reports of some things like, in one instance, an American immigration attorney loaded up a charter flight of his clients and had them flown to the U.S. military airbase outside of Doha, where they flew around and demanded and were ultimately granted landing permission, where they offloaded all of those individuals. Who were they? We don’t really know. It’s pretty amazing to me that that happened, but that is an example of the kind of thing that has occurred because there don’t seem to have been any controls or any governors on this moving train wreck to preclude that from happening.

We also have seen credible reports in the media that already some of the people in the United States were detected as having been prior deports who were removed from the United States for serious crimes, up to and including rape. In another instance, an individual who was still on a military post was flagged and charged with grand larceny because he apparently was either stealing military supplies and equipment or perhaps engaging in theft from some of his fellow refugees, so he’s now being held while they ponder what to do with him since it’s going to be a real conundrum to try and send any of these individuals back to Afghanistan now that the Taliban has taken over.

As Nayla has noted, the administration is now admitting that the vast majority of those evacuated are not citizens or green-card holders. They’re not, in fact, even special immigrant visa grantees or applicants. And so they cover that by using phrases like “refugee” and “at-risk individuals,” but really that’s anybody in Afghanistan short of being a certified Taliban member, particularly since the administration has defined a category of refugee as being an individual in Afghanistan who simply opposes living there. That could be an economic refugee. It falls outside the usual parameters of an individual being a refugee based on the five designated grounds, which are persecution or likely persecution on the basis of race, political belief, religion, et cetera, et cetera. These are just Afghans at large.

There is also a very disturbing report that when the American embassy in Kabul received instructions to start shredding and destroying classified materials, among the things that they destroyed en masse were the SIV application packages with the supporting documentation and the passports of people who had submitted them. If that’s true, the question arises: How, then, are they going to be able to legitimately document who was in the queue at the time? It’ll be a near impossibility to reconstruct any of that, which leaves people who were legitimately among those who helped the U.S. seriously at risk to be able to prove their claim.

Another thing that has been incredibly fuzzy, and I think deliberately so, is the demographics of those who are coming out of Afghanistan. It’s going to be interesting to find out how many of those are, in fact, for instance, the elderly or women and children, and how many are adult males of what might be considered fighting age, say from the age of 18 to 35. I suspect in the fullness of time we may find that a significant number of the people who barged their way onto those flights and got past the Taliban checkpoints are fairly young adult males, and that should be of great concern to the United States.

So, you know, the question is, exactly what is vetting? It’s not magic. It’s not a cure all. It consists of four general kinds of things.

First is biographic information. You want to look at the individual’s name, date, and place of birth, the details of their lives as they claim them, and you want to be able to match that up against whatever is in U.S. databases.

Second – and this is actually a better referent but less available – is the biometrics: fingerprints, palm prints, iris scans, signatures, things that are very difficult to or even impossible to change. But the reality is that there aren’t biometric indicia on the greater number of people coming out of Afghanistan.

So, absent that information and given the fact that with biographic data you have the added complication that it’s a different language and a different script, you can spell Mohammed a dozen different ways, Abdullahi several different ways. When you’re trying to check names based simply on biographic data, particularly when you don’t have access to the vital statistics and registration documents such as they exist in Afghanistan – which we don’t anymore – it leaves those who are doing the scrubbing and vetting in a conundrum. So what do they do, then? In Afghanistan, what they would have done is they would have relied on people in the field, including the military, to go out to the various towns and villages and provinces of the individual and try to pin down some of the facts to see whether they were embroidering or just spinning out of whole cloth. They can’t do that. We have no footprint in Afghanistan to double check what someone claims now.

And then, finally, you have a different kind of vetting, and that involves physical vetting for health purposes – X-rays, physical examinations. I’ve already touched on that. Yes, that’s going to happen. But the problem is that it seems to be at the end of the pipeline and not at the beginning, which means that even people exposed to someone who is sick on one of those flights may become infected, whether it’s with COVID or something else. And that means that there are potentially a lot of – going to be a lot of people with disease vectors who get – you know, get at least as far as Doha or some of the other military places where they’re being squared away right – (clears throat) – excuse me – right now, and that leaves the potential for them to spread that disease further. It’s a question.

So another question that arises is, what exactly is the vetting pinging against? And the answer to that is U.S. databases. That would include a variety of databases.

Immigration databases to – you know, for someone who may have been in the U.S. previously such as the prior deports I mentioned previously, or someone who applied previously and was denied for a visa for a multiplicity of reasons.

There will be law enforcement databases. Those generally only apply also to someone who’s been in the United States. If they’ve been arrested, whether it’s by state or local police or the FBI, that will be in those databases.

There are CIA and NSA databases. Those will likely involve a lot of signal intercepts of conversations, et cetera.

And then there are military databases. And those are interesting because the military has been very good at collecting caches of documents, weapons, bombs in the course of their operations in Afghanistan, and done a great job of taking latent fingerprints and all kinds of data off of that material, which they have then categorized to reflect that the individuals who were touching these things were likely bad guys. The problem now is there are not going to be any more military operations in Afghanistan. We would be fools to think that we had gathered enough biometric information on even a fraction of the people who are Taliban members, al-Qaida members, ISIS members, or their sympathizers. We’re nowhere near that point.

So where does that leave vetters? It leaves them pinging against what’s already in the system, and if they are very good and they notice discrepancies having enough time and resources to be able to personally interview at length – multiple times if necessary – to decide whether or not this individual represents a threat.

My gauge is there is much too much political pressure to move them along. The host governments, such as in Qatar, even the U.S. military is going to want to move people off their bases as quickly as possible. That imposes time constraints that make it extremely difficult to do the kind of vetting that needs done given the curtailed circumstances based on our exit. I fear that a lot of people will get through because there isn’t anything to ping against, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that these individuals are clean and that they don’t represent some kind of threat or risk to the United States. They may.

And then, finally, we have a whole different question, and that is of fraud. The Iraqi special immigrant visa program was so rife with fraud that it had to be suspended because of the volume of counterfeit and doctored documents and lies that were submitted to gain access to the program. There’s no reason to think that that wasn’t – isn’t also going to be the case here, particularly since, as Nayla says, there’s going to be even more pressure for people to try and funnel their way into the United States through that program. We have already experienced instances of that kind of fraud. It’s been reported in the media in the United States, in Germany, and in France. That’s incredible, given that we’re still at the early days of this whole evacuation process.

And then, lastly, we have an issue that’s more difficult to articulate, and that has to do with culture and assimilation. It’s heartening that, as Steve says, Afghans have a very high rate of naturalization, but keep in mind that the people who will be coming now are not people who generally have had ties to relatives in the United States or other things that might prepare them for life outside the village, outside their tribal system, their clan system.

A 2013 Pew Research Center study showed that 99 percent of Afghans believed strongly in Sharia law, not just in religious matters but for the law of the land. These are people who are now going to come to a very liberal society that very clearly distinguishes between your religious rights and the civil foundation of law. I suspect that’s going to cause a tremendous amount of difficulty in assimilating, and in the worst instances it can result in things such as we’ve seen in the past of honor killings of one’s wife or daughter or sister if you feel that they have become too Westernized and strayed too far from Sharia. And I think that’s one of the reasons why in Steve’s recitation he talked about the fact that women in Afghan families rarely work. That is in keeping with the kind of Sharia that is practiced in Afghanistan, where women are discouraged from being anywhere except in the home.

So, as we look ahead, we’re going to see a multiplicity of problems, not least of which is doing an adequate job of vetting with limited information, much of which has been whisked out from under the feet of the U.S. officials charged with making those decisions in a very short period of time.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Dan.

Just as a reminder, the reports that we’re talking about are online at our website, Steve’s report is called “Immigrants From Afghanistan: A Profile of Foreign-Born Afghans.” Nayla’s blog post is also right there on the home page, “Operation Allies Refuge: Who Exactly Was on Those Planes?”

So we’re going to take some questions from listeners. I already have a few of them. Maybe the – I don’t know, I think I’ll start with one from – which relates to resettling Afghans, whether they’re refugees or not, but just call them refugees in a general sense not the formal legal sense.

The groups – the contractors for the – who are paid by the federal government to do this resettlement as part of the refugee program – this is mainly for you, Nayla – VOLAGs was the shorthand name for them before; I think they’ve come up with something else now. But one question from a listener was – and this is interesting – Steve’s data suggested that Northern California, the Bay Area and Sacramento, is one of the main areas of Afghan settlement, but it’s also a place with very high housing costs. And this has always been, you know, a problem in resettling refugees. You look for places where it’s – you know, housing is cheap, and it’s not cheap in the Bay Area or Sacramento. Any thoughts on how that would work? Would the resettlement contractors, you know, look for low-cost places? Do they get housing benefits? You were talking about some of the welfare benefits they’re eligible for and Steve reported use of housing benefits. Any sort of thoughts on that, the resettlement end of it and the costs and the problems?

MS. RUSH: Well, resettlement agencies are the ones who take care of people – refugees. Now it’s parolees, probably, and/or Central American minors crossing through the borders. So they are the ones who are now in charge of helping people house people when they are here, et cetera. They get money. They get funding from the government to do that.

What they do is they decide which – in which state, exactly in which city this person is going to be sent, and they find housing. Usually, yes, they do look for cheap housings. I am not sure about the example you gave, Mark. Perhaps these were not refugees. Perhaps these were a network of Afghans who came together after a while, and so it wasn’t – I don’t know if it was through the resettlement agencies.

Now, I don’t know, if we look back a little bit this decision to send somebody to a state and not another is simple because of friend, access to work, et cetera, but also because these – the practical reason is these resettlement agencies have local affiliates in these cities – whether it’s the translator, whether it’s the social worker, et cetera, little offices that is convenient. When somebody’s coming, it’s already set. And these little offices, some of those closed because of the decreasing numbers of refugees under President Trump. But the resettlement agencies, there are nine of them that are still functioning.

That’s, I think –


MR. CAMAROTA: Well, let me say this.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah, go ahead, Steve. Sure.

MR. CAMAROTA: We don’t actually have data in the American Community Survey on housing, but the way you could sort of estimate it is that program is linked. So right now, if I had to guess based on the ratio of natives who use welfare and get housing based on other surveys – we just can’t look at Afghans in those surveys; the sample size isn’t big enough – you’d have to assume that the rate of public housing use among Afghan immigrants is about three times that of the native born, maybe about 18 percent.

But what you have to remember about housing programs, there’s a short-term thing that refugees have access to in terms of housing assistance, but the main housing program – which is the voucher system or public housing itself – is limited, and that is going to create a big issue. And so this does point to something I hinted at at the end of my discussion. It’s very costly to provide housing. Maybe one of the things we could do if we want to help more people is help them resettle in neighboring countries, where of course the cost of living is much less, the level of development is much more similar to Afghanistan, rather than the much more costly process of bringing people here and helping many fewer people with the amount of money that is available because money’s always limited. And housing does highlight that challenge. It’s enormously expensive, but less so in the neighboring countries. It would be enormously expensive here.

MR. KRIKORIAN: And just to be clear, it’s Afghanistan’s neighboring countries, not our neighboring countries.

MS. RUSH: Can I add something, Mark?

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah. Yes, Nayla. Sure. Go ahead.

MR. RUSH: Mark, I lost my thought before. What I wanted – I wanted to go back in the past a little bit to talk about what President Trump tried to do, which was give local and state officials the veto power to say, no, we don’t want to accept refugees because we don’t have the resources, et cetera, et cetera. That is off the table totally with the Biden administration, so states do not have a say as to who is sent to their cities and communities.

And last point on this. Resettlement agency, yes, they find housing for the – in the beginning, they find work for these refugees or other – now perhaps parolees, et cetera, but they also introduce them to all the benefits available to them whether it’s federal or whether it’s state and –

MR. KRIKORIAN: In a sense, that’s kind of the job of the resettlement groups, is signing up refugees for welfare.

MS. RUSH: Yeah, signing up.

MR. CAMAROTA: But they seem to be doing an even better job.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Right, right. That’s why the welfare use went up so much.

MR. CAMAROTA: Went up even though the income doesn’t seem to have deteriorated. The share of immigrants –


MR. CAMAROTA: – from Afghanistan in poverty or near poverty hasn’t gone up, just their welfare-use rate has. Now, it’s always been high, but it didn’t get worse. Just the welfare-use rates increased.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Yeah. The – go ahead, yeah, Dan.

MR. CADMAN: Yeah. I was just going to add that Nayla had mentioned the continuing resolution. It’s my understanding that there’s 30 billion – billion dollars – buried in there that they are hoping to be able to use for Afghan resettlement. So when Steve talks about this being costly, it needs to be understood that it’s going to be costly for the American taxpayer. And there’s no doubt in my mind at all that that 30 billion (dollars) would be a drop in the bucket over the course of time to what’s going to be needed to do an adequate job of resettling these individuals and understanding that there’s going to be a long-term continuing need for governmental services, a great deal of which will get dropped on state and local governments without reimbursement.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Dan, there’s a question – this is kind of from me, really. We didn’t get this question from a reader, but I think it’s something that needs to be highlighted. You know, you’ve talked about the vetting that’s been done and there are limitations to it, but let’s suppose there’s an Afghan who is at one of our bases abroad or has already been admitted to the U.S. and we do somehow stumble on information that’s, you know, disqualifying, somehow either it’s some kind of security threat or he’s in some other way inadmissible to the United States – a prior deportee, for instance. You had mentioned that that’s happened at least once. What do we do with them? Because returning them to Afghanistan is likely off the table, and no one else is going to take them, and we can’t keep them in custody for more than six months according to the Supreme Court. So aren’t we just going to let all of them into the U.S. whether they pass vetting or not?

MR. CADMAN: I think that’s exactly what’s going to happen. You’re going to have a problem getting rid of these people in terms of expatriating them because they will rely on the provisions of immigration law having to do withholding from deportation and the Convention Against Torture. There is almost no chance whatever of being rid of them once they are in the United States. And even if they are in a U.S. military airfield, whether it’s in, you know, Germany or Qatar, for all intents and purposes you can’t just shove them out the gate into – you now, into Germany or into Qatar. They’re ours. And ultimately, if we can’t find a place to take them to other than the United States, they’re going to get paroled into the United States and live lives of limbo on the streets without a green card, without refugee status. But for all intents and purposes physically they will be here, and that means we will have to live with whatever trouble attends to their existence in this country.

MR. KRIKORIAN: There’s another question that I guess would be more for you, Dan, than anyone else, but this was from a (reader ?). What about the southern border? And not – we don’t want to have a whole separate show on that, but is there a nexus between this? For instance, if Afghans who leave Afghanistan end up, say, in Pakistan or what have you, or Turkey, or they get into Europe and they apply for an SIV visa or whatever it is, and they get turned down. Do they – yeah, so it seems to me what’s likely to happen is they’re just going to come across the border, whether we like it or not, given how lax the border is.

So let me direct another question to – well, I guess this would be for – Steve already touched on this, but maybe I want to get Nayla’s thoughts on this. What about resettlement elsewhere? Steve talked about how it’s so much less expensive to resettle people in countries near Afghanistan, and this is something Steve’s done research on. At the time – this was several years ago – his estimate was that the five-year cost of resettling a person from the Middle East in the U.S. was 12 times greater than resettling that person in the region that he was from. What kind of options are there like that, Nayla, for people from Afghanistan? And aren’t there a lot of Afghans who are already resettled in countries, you know, neighboring Afghanistan?

MS. RUSH: There are over 2.2 million – and now add to these perhaps half a million the United Nations says – Afghans resettled in Iran and Pakistan. Only these two countries host the most of Afghan refugees. And it’s interesting what you say, Mark, because most people who are fleeing their country go to neighboring countries. Most refugees stay in the region where they are. Most Syrians are in Lebanon, Jordan. A few thousand come to the United States or to the West. Resettlement is – to the West is like it should be – it should be –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Last resort.

MS. RUSH: – an option for those who cannot, I don’t know, I lost –

MR. KRIKORIAN: Well, last resort I think is the –

MS. RUSH: No, I lost the hearing and I’m not sure.


MS. RUSH: It should be that the last – it should be – we should resettle only people who cannot stay even in the country of asylum. That is why resettlement was created. And that’s not how it happens.

Now, you want to resettle all the Afghans who leave now? Well, it becomes a political humanitarian refugee advocate based admission into the country. It’s not as much as the need for these Afghans to be in the United States and not in neighboring country. It’s more of the United States wants to say we have admitted enough, and look at us, and we’re going to help them. And now it seems that the backdoor to resettlement is going to be parole, just like the backdoor for Central Americans was come and in-country processing. So resettlement is limited in time, however money seems to be not very limited. And all these requests for money, billions of dollars, is for these resettlement agencies to help parolees on top of the Central American minors crossing and on top of asylum seekers and the refugees. So that’s a lot of responsibility we’re giving them.

But yes, you’re right. Most refugees stay in the region. And the United Nations – we fund the United Nations Refugee Agency billions of dollars. We are the biggest funder to this U.N. Refugee Agency, and they help refugees where they are.

MR. KRIKORIAN: Right. We’re going to take one more question. I don’t know if – actually, if you, Nayla, or maybe Dan have information on this, but we – do we know what is happening with vaccination or COVID tests and all the rest of it? What kind of health checks or vaccines are necessary kind of generally, even apart from COVID, for people coming here, especially the refugees?


MR. KRIKORIAN: Do you have any thoughts on that?

MS. RUSH: Well, let me go quickly. Maybe, Dan, you can go after.


MS. RUSH: I know that they are being tested, as any immigrant that comes to the United States. They should do it beforehand. Some are being tested in these U.S. bases in the United States – regular tests for tuberculosis, vaccines, I forget. I mean, there’s a list of regular checks that you need to do, and they are doing it. They are asking if these Afghans want to be vaccinated. Whoever wants to is; however, it’s not mandated. And they are given a COVID test. So I think that the medical checkup is being done in these U.S. bases before Afghans are let into the communities inside.

MR. KRIKORIAN: It’s interesting, though, that we’re letting them in without requiring COVID vaccination, whereas in many other contexts people are being required – Americans are being required to get vaccinated.

Well, I want to respect people’s time. We’re right about at one hour. Let me remind people that the reports we’re talking about are all online at our website, And if you came in halfway through this discussion, it’s going to be – the whole – the whole thing will be – is recorded and will be on our website,

We have a podcast for those who are interested in learning more just generally. We’ve done a couple on the issue of Afghans, but we’ve done, you know, on a whole variety of other issues too. The podcast is available at all the usual places. It’s called Parsing Immigration Policy. It’s on our website, too, but also Spotify and what have you, all those places where podcasts are.

And I want to thank Dan, coming to us remotely, and thank Nayla and Steve, and all of you for tuning in. And hopefully, you’ll be joining us for our next event. Thank you very much.



Topics: Refugees