MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for joining us this afternoon for the on-background conference call to discuss the Operation Allies Welcome relocation assistance efforts for Afghans.
For your information, our briefers this afternoon include [Senior U.S. Government Official One], [Senior U.S. Government Official Two], and [Senior U.S. Government Official Three].
For the purposes of this call, please refer to all of our briefers as senior United States Government officials.
With that, I’ll turn it over [Senior U.S. Government Official One].
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Good afternoon. So at the President’s direction, DHS stood up a unified coordination group to coordinate the efforts of Operation Allies Welcome. This has really been a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society mission. We have seen an outpouring – support from our American public for our Afghan allies. And with all of us working together, I think that we will be able to meet the goal of successfully integrating and welcoming our allies to the new community.
We have started screening and vetting processes, from starting overseas to our ports of entry, that involves biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, counterterrorism professionals, and the Department of Homeland Security, and Defense, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, NCTC, the National Counterterrorism Center, and additional Intelligence Community partners.
The U.S. Government has worked with urgency and with care to enhance the screening and vetting operations to make them not only more efficient, but without compromising any national security. The U.S. Government’s work includes ensuring evacuees are thoroughly and appropriately vetted prior to arrival in the U.S. And we’ve also made sure that evacuees are thoroughly screened at ports of entry and tested for COVID upon arrival, with less than a 1 percent positive rate thus far.
Ensuring essential care services are provided to evacuees at safe havens through the Department of State, USAID, HHS, USCIS, and DOD – are some of the key agencies that provide resources in coordination with numerous non-government organizations and volunteer agencies on site. These included but not limited to things like cultural sensitivity, feeding and hydration, sheltering, sanitation, vaccinations, basic medical care, public safety, language services, mental health services, recreation, and immigration services.
Out of an abundance of caution and pursuant to CDC guidance, we have recently temporarily paused flights coming to the United States because of six diagnosed cases of measles among Afghan nationals who recently arrived in the United States. We are approaching the situation without caution – with – I’m sorry – we are approaching the situation with the utmost caution and care, as we have the responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of every person that’s part of this mission. That includes not only the individuals we’re caring for as far as Afghans coming into the United States, but our employees and ultimately the community.
During this time, we will surge every resource at our disposal to quickly vaccinate all the evacuees and to prepare Afghan nationals for the resettlement and ultimate integration into our communities. Furthermore, a series of vaccinations are a requirement of parole for the Afghan nationals, which includes the measles vaccination and additional age-appropriate vaccinations.
The majority of Afghans who will be resettled in the United States in the coming weeks have worked directly for the United States on its mission in Afghanistan, and including across military, diplomatic, and developmental efforts – or in some cases, they are a family member of someone who did those things. And thousands more of this group worked as – in other efforts, either as journalists, human rights activists, or humanitarian workers and had careers that might have put them at risk.
Many more are family members of American citizens or legal permanent residents. In each case, it’s unique. Every individual and every family deserves our attention and care to ensure they can join the community and they – and that we can ensure that it’s successful. DHS has deployed hundreds of USCIS personnel to adjudicate applications for employment and authorization; conduct immigration processing, including the provision of Special Immigrant status to those who qualify; and to expedite the processing of different applications needed to complete the process.
We are working closely with State Department, also the Department of Health and Human Services, and will collaborate with more than 200 organizations that will assist in the resettlement and integration of Afghan nationals across the country. These organizations will identify the communities and services Afghans need to move from safe havens to their new communities. We will assist these individuals to find jobs in their communities so that they can develop a sense of home and can ultimately integrate into the culture of the United States.
MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior U.S. Government Official One]. Now I will welcome [Senior U.S. Government Official Two.]
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you all for joining today’s call. I’m here to speak about our resettlement and relocation efforts for Afghans arriving as part of Operation Allies Welcome.
Those arriving in the United States are a mix of American citizens, lawful permanent residents, Special Immigrant Visa holders, SIV applicants, those who worked directly with the U.S. on its mission in Afghanistan and their families, and other vulnerable Afghans. After their initial arrival to the United States at the Dulles and Philadelphia airports, SIV holders who are admitted as lawful permanent residents may immediately go on to their final destination and receive resettlement services.
The Department of State works with nine resettlement agencies and their networks of more than 200 local affiliates across the country to resettle Special Immigrant Visa recipients through the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and Reception and Placement Services. Placement of SIV recipients prioritizes reunification with U.S.-based family and friends and also considers the needs and characteristics of each case. SIV applicants and other vulnerable Afghans who have entered as parolees are transferred to one of eight domestic military installations, as [Senior U.S. Government Official One] just mentioned, for additional immigration processing, medical screenings and services, and temporary assistance.
After they have completed processing on base, Afghans will be connected to nongovernmental organizations throughout the country for initial relocation support and assistance with further immigration processing. These are the same organizations that I just referenced that participate in the traditional reception and placement program for refugees and SIVs.
The State Department is leading this effort in close coordination with many of these same 200 resettlement agency affiliate offices around the country. These agencies conduct extensive engagement with local communities to develop resources and support. Additionally, the private sector will play a vital role in the long-term social and economic integration of Afghans into American communities.
Afghans granted parole will receive State Department-funded assistance through these resettlement agencies via the Afghan Placement and Assistance Program, the APA. Through the APA Program, individuals will be placed in communities across the country to begin to rebuild their lives. As with traditional refugee and SIV resettlement, placement of individuals will prioritize reunification with U.S.-based family and friends and will consider the needs and characteristics of each case. As family unification is a core tenet of the program, this factor can affect how many individuals are sent to certain locations.
Other factors that can determine where Afghans will be relocated include reasonable housing, job opportunities, and community capacity. The local agencies will provide assistance with critical needs such as housing, enrolling children in school, and basic necessities such as food, clothing, and furnishings during the first 30 to 90 days in their new communities.
Also, as [Senior U.S. Government Official One] mentioned, the outpouring of care from Americans seeking to help, especially from the Afghan American community, is incredibly generous and heartwarming. Local resettlement agencies and other nongovernmental organizations are harnessing this goodwill as these Afghans complete their initial processing and begin their new lives in America. Groups of volunteers, churches, and businesses are raising money and organizing to form welcome teams that help with everything from locating and furnishing housing, meeting them at the airport, orienting them to life in the U.S., and connecting them to community services.
Corporations and industries are offering resources from jobs to even hotel rooms and Airbnbs until permanent housing can be secured. We encourage people who are interested in assisting arriving Afghans to reach out to their local resettlement agency to learn about ways to help. There are many opportunities to be involved in welcoming Afghans and helping them to rebuild their lives in the U.S. For a list of resettlement agency and affiliate contacts, you visit www.wrapsnet.org. On that page is a list of agencies and contacts.
A broad network of private and nongovernmental actors, including but not limited to U.S. companies, philanthropies, universities, civil society organizations, faith-based communities, and veteran groups, have expressed interest in supporting newly arrived Afghans, including funding and sponsorship and as coordinators and advocate promoters of this effort.
We note that earlier today a new national effort, Welcome.US, was launched to help channel and direct all the interest and support of the private sector and American public. We are proud of this initiative and have been working with Welcome.US to garner this support and will have more details about our involvement in the coming days.
MODERATOR: Thank you, [Senior U.S. Government Official Two]. Finally, I welcome [Senior U.S. Government Official Three].
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Hi, everyone, and I hope you’re having a good afternoon. HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement has helped to resettle more than 3 million refugees in the U.S. since 1975. HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement partners with the State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, which you just heard from, as well as the nine national refugee resettlement agencies and their 200 local offices and affiliates across the country to welcome these newcomers and help them rebuild their lives.
And right now, HHS is working closely with all of our partners to ensure that we can provide all of the services that are available for newly arrived Afghans. In coordination with the State Department, we at HHS are supporting the initial relocation efforts through the Afghanistan Placement Assistance Program to Afghans granted parole by providing short-term emergency health insurance.
After arrival, HHS’s ORR provides time-limited cash and medical assistance to refugees and all other eligible populations. ORR also supports case management, English-language, and job readiness and employment services – all services designed to facilitate new arrivals’ successful transition to life in the U.S. and help them attain self-sufficiency.
Like refugees, Special Immigrant Visa holders may access the Refugee Support Services Program available for up to five years from their date of eligibility. The RSS program provides a range of assistance, including employability services; job training and preparation; assistance with job searches, placement, and retention; child care, transportation; translation and interpreter services; and case management.
And the administration has requested authority and funding from Congress to provide these supports to Afghan humanitarian parolees as well.
These services, for which the administration is seeking authority and funding, are administered through an extensive private-public grantee network, including states, the nine national resettlement agencies and their affiliates, and other faith-based and community-based organizations across the country.
Afghan parolees, as described by my State Department colleague, [Senior U.S. Government Official Two], can also receive the Department of State’s Afghan placement and assistance services.
To support these new arrivals from Afghanistan, HHS has requested additional funding to support relocation communities across the country and bolster programming to help foster self-sufficiency and live up to our humanitarian mission.
We look forward to continuing our strong partnership with the interagency to support communities across the country who are welcoming Afghan arrivals and facilitate that successful integration into life in the U.S.
In the recent past, HHS has provided emergency supplemental funds of $20 million to support capacity building in anticipation of these Afghan arrivals in the top ten states where they’re anticipated to go. And also, we, in coordination with the Department of State, have been coordinating with states to support expanded capacity. As mentioned, at this time, HHS’s Office of Refugee Resettlement’s current authority limits our ability to serve parolees; however, we are grateful the administration has submitted a legislative fix to Congress to ensure access to the full range of ORR services.
Thank you so much.
MODERATOR: With that, let’s to go Nick Wadhams.
OPERATOR: One moment, please. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. I just wanted to follow up on something you guys mentioned at the top on the measles that have been diagnosed. How long do you anticipate that that pause in flights will remain? And can you describe a little bit more the quarantine process for other Afghans and anyone who presumably would have come in contact with them?
And then second, this question of the issue of child brides, the concern that had been expressed in some State Department memos. What are you doing or what is the policy when you find situations where you suspect there may be a child bride who has come with an adult Afghan person? What do you do about those people?
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL ONE: This is [Senior U.S. Government Official One] with DHS. Let me take the first question and then I think your second question maybe is a question for HHS. But with regard to the measles, as I said, six cases confirmed thus far. We have tested others that have come in close contact. Those – many of those have come back negative. Some of those tests are still in the process of being completed.
As soon as we got the first – well, what I would say is – let me start with before we had the first case last week that was positive, just because of Afghanistan being a known country with a high level of measles, we started working with CDC and just doing surveillance through the whole system and doing checks to make sure that we maintain a system that is able to identify and stop and contain and quarantine individuals as needed. So originally, when the first confirmed case came back, we took measures to stop the flights. This helped us then be able to contact trace, to put measures in place to isolate individuals. Everyone CONUS is now isolated on one of the eight bases, and – with the exception of some that are receiving medical services in facilities that we have them in doing that. And then overseas, they’re isolated at the bases over there that they’re staged at.
We are aggressively going through and vaccinating everyone with MMR and varicella vaccines right now. We’re – should be able to get through all those in CONUS hopefully, we think, by the end of this weekend and complete those vaccinations. There is a period for that fully to become effective, and CDC is in the process of – they just issued guidance to me about 15 minutes ago that provides some further guidance to us on length of time that we need to continue to isolate them so that allows sufficient time for the vaccine to become effective.
As we do that, we’re also contact tracing to figure out, if there’s certain bases where they haven’t had any contact with measles, what the length of time is. So we’re working that. We have eight teams for CDC at each – one at each base, and they are doing those assessments right now so we can make better decisions on the full length of time.
Hopefully that answers the questions with regard to the measles. Let me turn to – I don’t know, [Senior U.S. Government Official Three], if you can answer the question, the second question.
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Sure.
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you.
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Yeah, great. Thank you for the question. Thanks, [Senior U.S. Government Official One]. We are collaborating very closely with the State Department to identify any child welfare issues that are identified on the bases where the Afghani guests are staying. So when we are notified of a case, we look into the specific case history, the age of the child, the length of the marriage in order to determine if there is a risk to child safety. And then we have experienced case workers who are making those case-by-case recommendations. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Let’s go over to Austin Landis.
OPERATOR: And your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you. I think this question is for [Senior U.S. Government Official One]. You said the majority of Afghans who are here or who are part of this evacuation worked for the U.S. in some way, and I’m wondering where that estimate is coming from. Is that something that your task force is measuring and tracking here once people arrive – you’re tracking those categories? Because the department also previously said the majority of SIVs, which accounts for a lot of people who worked for the U.S., were left behind, so I’m wondering just where your estimate is coming from there.
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, we’re currently in the process of working through all the cases, and it is complex because while the majority of Afghans that resettle in the United States – and I think what I was saying, there are – worked directly with the U.S. on its mission. Not all of them started to make process within the Special Immigration Visas process, plus a number of them are family members to those individuals with some large families.
So while many of them in Afghanistan worked across multiple departments and agencies, including military, diplomatic, and other development efforts, there are also, as I said, many others that worked with journalists or human rights activists or humanitarian workers that put them at risk. And so while there’s a number that were full SIVs or legal permanent residents, there’s a number that are still in process of obtaining that, and there’s others that didn’t yet apply to that. And that’s what we’re working through in each base as USCIS works with them on exactly what their status is. And if they had worked for us in some form or fashion, it’s starting that process to get them to – get to that appropriate status.
MODERATOR: We have time for one final question. Let’s go to Brooke Singman.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for doing this call. I’m not sure if I missed this, so please forgive me if I did. You mentioned the number of states that were able to handle a larger number of Afghan refugees. I wondered if you could either repeat them or share which states those are. And then in terms of vetting, if you would be able to just go into a little detail on the screening process, that would be great. Thank you so much.
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL TWO: This is [Senior U.S. Government Official Two] from the State Department. I – we did not mention, I’m – unless my colleagues mentioned it and I didn’t hear them, but in my remarks I did not mention the number of states that would be receiving. I did say that we have over 200 affiliates. We have nine national resettlement agencies, and in their networks, they have over 200 affiliates located across the country in approximately 150 communities. These organizations have traditionally for decades been involved in resettling refugees and SIVs. They are now, almost all of them, engaged in resettling the Afghan guests who are now going to be arriving in the next few weeks and months. That number changes because we expect to increase capacity; we expect new organizations to come online. So right now we have the initial number of affiliates that are going to be engaged in this, but again, that number is expected to fluctuate.
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Great. And [Senior U.S. Government Official Two], I think that was me when I spoke about the $20 million in supplemental funding that was provided. Those top 10 states were based on historical arrivals of Afghan refugees, so – and I should say that is not necessarily predictive of the future, but it was just trying to increase capacity in those states. Thanks.
SENIOR U.S. GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL ONE: And this is [Senior U.S. Government Official One] from DHS with regard to the question about screening and vetting. So the process starts overseas. We deployed, I think, more than 200 CBP officials overseas to capture the biometrics and biographics, and to be able then to work with our interagency partners to be able to look at that – as I said, across not only Department of Homeland Security but FBI, NCTC, our Intelligence Community partners, DOD partners – and look at all that data across all their databases to vet that. And so that process started overseas, but then again happened as a second layer once they got to ports of entry here in the United States. And Customs then went back through the information and went ahead and worked with those agencies, and looked at it to make sure that there was no one that we were letting in the country that was a concern. Obviously, interviewed individuals, talked to other departments and agencies, and did a second level of screening that happened there.
So it’s a kind of a two-level process that happened first overseas to keep people from getting on the planes, and then in event that maybe someone got on a plane, there was a second level there to screen them there too. And thus far, no one’s gotten into the United States or has been – entered in the United States that is of concern.
MODERATOR: Thank you, everyone, for joining today’s conference call. That concludes our conference call for today. As a reminder, the call was on background with attribution to our briefers as senior U.S. Government officials. The embargo is now lifted and have a great rest of your afternoon.