Meijer & Higgins Opening Statements In Afghan Resettlement Hearing
Ranking Member Meijer’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this important joint subcommittee hearing today, and thank you to our witnesses for joining us in today’s discussion.
We are gathered here today after months of extreme turbulence for America and its allies following the U.S. military’s drawdown and then full withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021.
I served in the Iraq War and then later worked as a conflict analyst with the humanitarian aid community, living in Afghanistan from late 2013 to early 2015. Like so many other veterans, I was both enraged and heartbroken by the images we saw coming out of Afghanistan in August following the collapse of the Afghan government and the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country. I was one of the many Americans receiving desperate calls, texts, and emails from friends and former colleagues at all hours of the day pleading for help. This is personal for me, and I appreciate how personal it is for the other members and witnesses with us here today. I am truly grateful for everyone’s participation.
Despite repeated calls and warnings from a bipartisan group of lawmakers dating back to April, the Administration failed to adequately plan for this withdrawal and was not prepared to protect our Afghan allies who put their lives, and the lives of their families, on the line to help the United States. In the final weeks of August, the U.S. military, State Department personnel, and others on the ground completed incredible work under impossible circumstances and saved countless lives, with over 120,000 individuals being airlifted to safety out of the Kabul airport. This group included Americans, U.S. lawful permanent residents, Special Immigrant Visa holders, interpreters, and other vulnerable Afghans fearful of a what a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan would mean.
Tragically, given the unimaginable conditions on the ground and the fact that the Administration had ceded control to the Taliban, this effort cost the lives of 13 brave U.S. servicemembers and scores of Afghans who were frantically trying to reach safety. Policy decisions made here in D.C. put our people in this dangerous position. Every American should take pride in the heroism that Americans on the ground displayed in our final days in Afghanistan, and every American should demand accountability from the officials whose decisions put them in a position that required those heroic acts. My thoughts and prayers remain with those who lost loved ones and for those who were left behind in the chaos of the withdrawal, and I hope today we can discuss ideas to make sure every at-risk individual in Afghanistan is accounted for.
With the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan now concluded, the Administration has largely shifted from evacuating Afghan allies to resettling them. The United States has an ongoing moral obligation to evacuate our Afghan allies who risked their lives to support the U.S. that still remain in Afghanistan, and at the same time, ensure the resettlement of individuals already evacuated is completed in a safe, secure, and humane manner.
Operation Allies Welcome is the whole of government effort being led by DHS in coordination with DOD, State, HHS, and other federal partners to provide resources, immigration processing, medical services, transportation, temporary housing, and a variety of other essential services to the evacuated Afghan population arriving in the United States.
I know from firsthand experience what an incredible and complex undertaking this is. Prior to serving in Congress, I worked with Team Rubicon, a veteran-based non-governmental organization that focuses on disaster response efforts both in the U.S. and abroad, and I am thrilled to see them represented among our witnesses today.
While working with Team Rubicon, I witnessed firsthand communities around the world that struggled with a variety of crises, and our work focused on helping these communities build back following a natural disaster. We provided vital support and exceptional subject matter expertise in disaster situations. And we often worked hand in glove with governments around the world as well as other NGOs and private sector organizations to ensure optimal results.
Now Team Rubicon and many other NGOs are teaming up with the U.S. government to facilitate the successful resettlement of Afghan evacuees through Operation Allies Welcome. Their work encompasses a wide range of activities, from providing food and transportation, to coordinating with the local communities where evacuees will be resettled to help them find housing and employment opportunities.
The work that NGOs are currently conducting on behalf of Afghan nationals in the U.S. and around the world is key not only to Operation Allies Welcome, but to the successful integration of the evacuees into their new communities. These organizations are filling gaps in the capabilities of our own government during this tremendous undertaking, and we truly have much to learn from their work and experiences. I am excited to hear how these groups are working with the federal government during this historic resettlement effort. We want to better understand the challenges, how operations are going today, what we need to anticipate going forward, and how we can help.
The evacuees arriving in the United States have already been through so much. We owe it to them to ensure the resettlement is better planned and better executed than the evacuation. I was proud to join a bipartisan group of my colleagues in introducing the WELCOMED Act in September to provide evacuees admitted to the U.S. under humanitarian parole with the standard refugee benefits they need, and I was pleased to see this language signed into law as part of the government funding measure that Congress passed at the end of September. But there is more we need to know, and more we need to do – and that is the purpose of this hearing today. We know this will be a long-term, large-scale operation, and we as members of Congress are here to listen, learn, and help in this effort.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for holding this hearing, and thank you Chairwoman Barragan and Ranking Member Higgins for leading this important hearing with us today. I am sincerely looking forward to hearing the witnesses’ testimony and ensuring that the government is leveraging the full range of NGOs and their capabilities to make Operation Allies Welcome a success.
Ranking Member Higgins’ Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Chairwoman Barragan, and Ranking Member Meijer for holding this very important joint hearing today. I would also like to thank all our witnesses for being here to join today’s discussions.
It’s been almost two months since the United States’ chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. On August 29, President Biden directed the Department of Homeland Security, who we have yet to hear from in a hearing format, to lead the implementation of the ongoing efforts across the federal government to support and resettle vulnerable Afghans who were evacuated.
This disastrous withdrawal led to thousands of vulnerable Afghans coming to the United States under various authorities such as the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and humanitarian parole. Some of these individuals are being paroled into the interior of the United States, or prematurely leaving military bases, before undergoing proper and necessary vetting.
Committee on Homeland Security Republicans have received very little information from the Biden Administration on how these efforts are progressing. I am requesting that the Committee hold a full committee hearing, with relevant government witnesses, on the entire resettlement process, including the screening and vetting, of Afghans in the United States.
As part of our Congressional oversight authority, the Committee must address the fallout, including any national security threats, due to the manner in which the United States withdrew from Afghanistan. Additionally, the Committee must also address the screening and vetting process of all Afghans leaving Kabul during those chaotic last days. Committee Republicans have yet to receive answers to many questions we have put to the Department of Homeland Security, despite numerous letters and attempts.
I want to be clear that we are very appreciative of the hard work of the nonprofits, and to all the organizations here today, that have stepped forward in this hour of need to help all vulnerable Afghans who worked alongside Americans at great risk to themselves and their families. We recognize the importance of your work in Operation Allies Welcome, helping with the resettlement efforts, coordinating donations and logistics support, just to name a few of your contributions.
I look forward to the witnesses’ testimony and I thank them for appearing before us today. But before I yield back the balance of my time, I again request a full Committee hearing on Afghanistan. And with that, I yield back.