Hundreds of Afghan evacuees are leaving U.S. military bases without waiting to be formally processed by the federal government.
In an exclusive story, Reuters confirmed the number of “independent departures” could go higher than 700.
The number of independent departures varies from base to base, according to the outlet’s sources, including more than 300 alone at Fort Bliss in Texas.
The government’s voluntary resettlement process is described as open-ended and complex.
As CBN News reported, after the chaotic U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, thousands of Afghans were evacuated to the U.S.
Earlier this month, Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor at Georgetown University, writing for the Brookings Institution, placed that number at almost 88,000 with an additional 20,000 waiting in other countries.
Many of these Afghans coming to the U.S. are being admitted through Humanitarian Parole, which is a process to move and process groups of people quickly. The usual time frame for refugee resettlement takes around two years and is usually not carried out in the U.S., according to the Brookings Institution.
While the evacuees wait at the bases, government officials and private organizations try to connect people with resettlement services in the U.S.
A U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesperson said in a statement that people who had left the bases “generally” had ties to the United States, like family members or friends, and resources to support themselves.
The spokesperson also noted that many of those evacuated were U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or had approved Special Immigrant Visas so they were able to leave quickly.
However, leaving the bases early without completing the resettlement process, could cost other Afghans needed assistance like accelerated work permits. In addition, due to the intricacies of the U.S. immigration process, it could also create multiple legal problems for evacuees in the future, according to Reuters.
It’s a giant can of worms,” one U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services official, who spoke on condition of anonymity told the outlet. “This could lead to years and years of terrible immigration status problems.”
Last week, Congress approved $6.3 billion in emergency funding to provide Afghans with extensive benefits usually provided to refugees. But Reuters noted those who leave U.S. bases early might not get all the legal orientation they need to start their applications.
Immigration experts said Afghans who leave were not breaking any laws and military officials have no authority to hold them.
Evacuees are warned about the consequences they may face if they leave before being processed. According to Reuters, Afghans are given a document titled “Departee Information” that informs them that if they stay on base, they can get their immigration papers processed and will receive funds to help pay for their travel within the U.S. to their destination.
“Once you leave this base, you forfeit these advantages and may not return,” it reads.