On November 10, 2017, the Office of Refugee Resettlement notified the Secretary of Health and Human Services — the agency responsible for refugee resettlement in the US — that it had allocated space in a shelter for 3,750 people fleeing the war-torn country and that the occupants needed to be evacuated in less than 30 days.
That letter was obtained by the Associated Press and related stories have been published on the AP’s website and Facebook page. They depict the chaos of late-night room-stacking and chaos of air-conditioning replacement in Pennsylvania. They also show a university’s actions in trying to detect children’s unaccompanied status.
The paper has also assembled an extensive timeline of the proceedings and an interview with a child shelter director, who said the children weren’t interrogated and their passport and iris scans were not read. Neither was a psychological or medical check.
The federal office and the social service agency haven’t confirmed the stories. A Health and Human Services spokesperson said the agency is reviewing the report, is maintaining confidentiality in the case of minors and working to ensure children and families come to the U.S. safely.
But none of the refugees have arrived and according to the former assistant secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services — the office you would expect would have started these asylum cases — has had almost no vetting:
‘None at all’
“None at all,” the HHS assistant secretary told the AP.
“We don’t have capacity to build a new system.”
Asked what happens if the country won’t have enough space for the anticipated influx of refugees, the assistant secretary said, “then it gets down to, we let people in and they have to go through our vetting process.”
‘We’ve got a triage-like environment’
We have not seen statistics on the immigration security status of the incoming refugees, but the assistant secretary, a Donald Trump appointee, said their average age was 18 and 91% of them were single males.
“It’s incredibly urgent that we have to do a better job of screening these refugees before they get here,” the assistant secretary said.
“The faucet is on. We have have an obligation to get the process moving. It’s a desperate time.”
November 10, 2017: Federal office sends a letter to HHS and social service agency with space to house 3,750 people fleeing Afghanistan.
November 14, 2017: The waiting window begins.
November 16, 2017: Trump administration begins to reject children under age 15 (per the AP), instead of cutting numbers by lowering the age limit.
December 5, 2017: Adults are evacuated, with 1,270 staying at one shelter and 1,155 at another.
December 12, 2017: US Senate votes to freeze refugee admissions after lawmakers say there are “credible” allegations of sex trafficking in the country
December 14, 2017: Social service agency receives the first class of 590 people, all adults; 587 stay in Pennsylvania and 228 leave
December 17, 2017: Staff at the orphanage tell the state’s inspector general that rooms were “stacked to the ceiling” and officials wondered how many people it would take to evacuate everyone. (The report said there were 1,640 people who had been at the orphanage.)
December 19, 2017: The remaining 543 people are evacuated to Homestead, Florida