Mohammad Tariq came to the U.S. as an Afghan evacuee. Now he is sitting in a Homeland Security Department detention facility while officials try to find out whether any other country is willing to take him off their hands.
Tariq pleaded guilty to fondling a 3-year-old girl at the camp in Virginia where U.S. officials brought him. The incident violated the terms of his “parole” and made him a priority for deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Right now, ICE isn’t sending Afghans back to their home country. The chance that a third country will agree to take a sex abuser isn’t high, so Tariq will probably end up back on U.S. streets.
The same is true for Zabihullah Mohmand, who was charged with forcible sexual intercourse and was convicted of sexual assault, and Alif Jan Adil, who is serving a federal sentence for child pornography and abusive sexual contact with a juvenile.
ICE says it wants to deport both of them, but it’s not likely to happen, said Tom Homan, who spent decades at ICE and ran the agency under President Trump. He said the situation in Afghanistan and a Supreme Court decision dictate their fates.
“The bottom line is most of them are probably going to end up being released,” Mr. Homan told The Washington Times.
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Under a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, ICE has a limit on the length of detention for immigrants.
What is known as the Zadvydas ruling said immigration detention is an administrative procedure meant to facilitate deportation. If the government has no firm prospect of deportation after six months and cannot show exceptional national security or public safety reasons, then the person should be freed.
Mr. Homan said even rape or child molestation cases usually don’t meet that standard.
ICE declined to elaborate on its plans for the Afghans. Instead, the agency pointed a reporter to Homeland Security’s general webpage for the Afghan airlift and welcome operation.
The agency did say in a statement that it was neither targeting nor granting leniency to anyone and that it makes decisions “regardless of nationality.”
“ICE officers make associated decisions in a professional and responsible manner, informed by their experience as law enforcement officials and in a way that best protects against the greatest threats to the homeland, applying prosecutorial discretion when making such decisions, as do law enforcement officers in different agencies and offices throughout the nation,” the agency said.
ICE halted deportations to Afghanistan during the Taliban takeover. Axios reported one deportation in February. A month later, Homeland Security announced Temporary Protected Status, effectively a deportation amnesty, for Afghans who were in the U.S. by March. Under TPS, the administration concluded that Afghanistan was too mired in chaos to accept returning nationals.
Mr. Homan said officials are searching for other countries willing to take the Afghans but have little hope for the cases that The Times inquired about.
Of the four cases, two of the Afghans have concluded their prison time and are in ICE custody. A third is still serving time in federal prison, and ICE says it has a “detainer” request for the man to be turned over when he completes his criminal sentence.
The agency declined to talk about the fourth case, involving Mohammad Haroon Imaad, who was accused of trying to strangle his wife and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to time served.
Analysts said the agency’s refusal to talk about that case likely suggests that Imaad has an asylum petition or other claim of protection pending and the agency is barred from talking about such cases.
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, said the cases showed “how botched the Afghan evacuation was” and exposed ICE’s inability to handle criminals from countries where the U.S. won’t deport.
“Some of these guys could be out on the street soon and potentially in a position to prey on new victims. As a direct result of the Zadvydas decision, Americans are now stuck with several thousand criminal aliens in their community whose home countries won’t take them back and who should be behind bars,” she said.
She said immigrants are aware of the 180-day time frame and some will refuse to assist ICE with repatriation. If the immigrants faced indeterminate detention in the U.S., Ms. Vaughan said, they might try to persuade their home countries to take them back.
“Over the years, Americans have witnessed the human cost of tying ICE’s hands in this way, with scores of examples of murders and more committed by these offenders after release,” she said.
According to a 2015 letter to senators, ICE said it had released nearly 2,500 criminals as a result of Zadvydas restrictions in 2014. Nearly a third were from Cuba, though immigrants from China were also major offenders.
Looking more broadly, ICE told senators that 24 of the immigrants it had to release because of Zadvydas restrictions from 2010 to 2014 were charged with murder by early 2015.
“It is long past time for Congress to act to give ICE more leeway to detain criminals and other deportable aliens from recalcitrant countries, and to create more penalties for countries that don’t cooperate, to increase the chances of removal, which is the real objective,” Ms. Vaughan said.
Nearly 80,000 evacuees were brought out of Afghanistan and to the U.S. under a special “parole” program during the Biden administration’s airlift operation.
The administration’s stated intent was to rescue allies who assisted the U.S. during its 20-year war effort.
In reality, many of those flown out of Afghanistan had no such connection and were instead Kabul residents lucky enough to get through the Taliban cordon and reach the airport.
Homeland Security said it ran the names of the new arrivals through its databases to try to weed out bad actors before they reached U.S. soil, though some with criminal records managed to make it anyway.
An inspector general has reported that Homeland Security didn’t always have access to a key Defense Department database that tracked information such as fingerprints taken from explosives or from inside al Qaeda caves.
Homeland Security leaders have disputed that report but have not revealed specific objections.
Once in the U.S., most evacuees were pushed into camps at military bases for more acclimation and vaccines, though an inspector general said thousands walked away from the bases without completing full processing.
Three of the four cases The Times explored involved crimes committed at the camps. The exception is the case of Mohman. Authorities said he met a young woman one night, went back to her hotel room and raped her. Mohman originally insisted that the sex was consensual.
Authorities recorded dozens of criminal investigations of Afghans at the military bases. The inspector general said others were never recorded because authorities didn’t want to make waves among the new arrivals and let community leaders within the camps settle issues.
In other cases, the inspector general said, local prosecutors declined to bring charges.
That, plus the fact that the Afghans are now dispersed throughout the county, makes it impossible to estimate the overall level of criminality.
A general in charge of the camps last year asserted that the crime level was lower than the U.S. population.
Still, the difficulty of dealing with those who do cross lines is now facing the government.
“Rule No. 1 [is] once they reach the United States, no matter how bad they get, they’re here,” one Homeland Security official told The Times. “Even if you vet them and they’re terrorists, you can’t get rid of them.”
• Stephen Dinan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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