EXCLUSIVE: Second major felon found on Afghan evacuation flight
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In this Aug. 22, 2021, file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force, Afghan passengers board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III during the Afghanistan evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (MSgt. Donald R. Allen/U.S. Air … more >
By Stephen Dinan
The Washington Times
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Another Afghan who had been deported from the U.S. after an aggravated felony conviction was found on an evacuation flight back to the U.S. this month, The Washington Times has learned.
The man, who had a 2011 conviction for aggravated robbery and was deported in 2017, somehow cleared all the overseas checks the Biden administration says it is making. He was flagged only when he arrived at Washington Dulles International Airport, making it tougher to oust him.
His case follows that of Ghader Heydari, an Afghan who was convicted of rape in Idaho in 2010 and was deported in 2017, but who also made it onto an evacuation flight and landed at Dulles.
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They are among tens of thousands of Afghans who have reached the U.S., and their arrivals signal potential problems within that broader population over how they are being vetted.
“A lot of time and effort and taxpayer dollars have gone into removing dangerous individuals from our society. In one fell swoop, we’re simply going to return them to the U.S. without thinking ahead of the consequences,” said Jon Feere, a former chief of staff at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and now director of investigations at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Both convicts were flagged by Customs and Border Protection officers.
Some analysts have argued that their flagging proves the process is working, while others say the fact that they reached U.S. soil is worrying because it creates a series of rights and erects significant hurdles to getting rid of them again.
Sheriff Kieran Donahue in Canyon County, Idaho, which borders Ada County, where Heydari was convicted of rape, noted another consideration: the potential impact on the victims of their crimes.
“This guy’s a threat. And the United States — the Biden administration — brought him here,” Sheriff Donahue said.
In Heydari’s case, the known rape victim has been alerted, he said, though the sheriff couldn’t say any more to protect the person’s identity.
Heydari is being held at an ICE detention facility in Virginia.
The robbery convict also was put into deportation proceedings, according to a document The Washington Times has reviewed. He has expressed a fear of being sent back to Afghanistan, which is the first step to block another deportation.
He likely is not eligible for asylum because of his felony. Aggravated robbery is a serious offense involving the use of a weapon or threats of force. Still, he could argue against removal under the Convention Against Torture.
It’s not clear whether the two cases were mistakes that should have been blocked overseas or whether they signal a broader policy in which aggravated felony records and previous deportations are not considered grounds for blocking an evacuee.
The Washington Times reached the Department of Homeland Security, which did not answer that question, though it acknowledged that sending back convicts could be difficult right now.
“Removal decisions are made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account a range of considerations. At this point, we are not removing individuals to Afghanistan,” the department said.
The State Department, reached by The Times, said its role was conducting overseas screening. It referred questions about U.S. operations to Homeland Security.
ICE deported about 210 people to Afghanistan from 2012 through 2020. With the latest case, at least two of them are known to have made it back on evacuation flights.
“Were all of those deportations for naught?” Mr. Feere asked. “Are we really going to bring every single one of them into the U.S. and have no plan to send them home again?”
Sheriff Donahue said local authorities will have to deal with the repercussions of returned criminals.
“We’re going to pay for this for some time, possibly for decades, and as law enforcement, we’re kind of that first line of defense out here,” he said. “These people are coming into the country without a thorough vetting process, and I don’t believe there is one being done thoroughly. We stand to have a whole bunch of law enforcement respond to tragic events, up to and including terrorist activity, on our soil.”
Biden administration officials insist they have confidence in their vetting process for the more than 45,000 Afghans who had been airlifted to the U.S.
The administration has been cagey about revealing exactly what it’s checking.
Testifying to Congress this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken acknowledged that most Afghans were airlifted out of Kabul without vetting. He blamed the crush of people at the airport.
He said the government set up waypoints in other countries where Afghans could be held and vetted and insisted that nobody reached the U.S. “without being checked somewhere else first to make sure that they don’t pose a security threat.”
Under questioning by Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, Mr. Blinken acknowledged “a handful” of cases in which Afghans were believed to have made it to the U.S. with child brides. The secretary said the government has “separated people” in those cases.
Mr. Blinken said the government will conduct further vetting in a year if Congress approves the Biden administration’s plan to give the Afghans a speedy path to citizenship.
Members of Congress, though, pointed out that once Afghans reach U.S. soil, there is no way to require them to stay on military bases for vetting. Some have walked away from the bases to blend in with communities.
Security experts said the administration should have blocked people from reaching the U.S. until all vetting was complete. While overseas, they have limited recourse to the courts. But once in the U.S., even if immediately flagged and detained, they can sue for release, can demand asylum and can complicate plans for deportation, even if the government was inclined to do so.
Most migrants who can’t be deported under current law are required to be released after six months in immigration detention unless the government can prove they are security risks or deportation is imminent.
In the case of Heydari, officials have other options to keep him off the streets.
He was paroled in Idaho in 2015, five years into his sentence, and reentering the U.S. is a violation of that parole. The state Commission of Pardons and Parole received a report of violation on Tuesday and is issuing a nationwide warrant and detainer.
The commission also is talking with ICE for information that could lead to new charges, said Executive Director Ashley Dowell.
Sheriff Donahue, who is part of the leadership team at the National Sheriffs Association, said the federal government also might be able to charge Heydari.
“This is truly an aggravated reentry from the federal guidelines,” the sheriff said. “He knowingly came back to the United States after being deported, and he was deported after a felony crime.”
The Biden administration has taken a more lenient approach toward immigration enforcement, though it says migrants with aggravated felonies remain priority targets for ousting. It’s not clear how that squares with the decision to allow rape and robbery convicts back into the country.
Kris Kobach, general counsel at the Alliance for Free Citizens, who is battling the Biden administration’s deportation rules in court, said they have found the government is “willfully ignoring” cases of felons with previous deportations.
Under the law, he said, a felon previously deported is required to be removed.