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Immigration activist concerned about getting 'some very bad apples'
WASHINGTON – Though the vast majority of Afghan refugees are returning to Afghanistan, more than 1,100 have resettled in the U.S. since its bombing campaign started there last October, WorldNetDaily has learned.
The State Department continues to process Afghan refugees through its embassy and consulates in Pakistan, a spokeswoman confirms.
The recent terrorist attack on one of the U.S. offices there has delayed casework, she says, but between eight and 10 Afghan refugee cases are still being considered a week.
The number of Afghan refugees resettling in the U.S. swelled after the Taliban militia took over Afghanistan in 1996.
All told, State has resettled 6,262 Afghans in America since then – a number that disturbs some immigration watchers and homeland security officials.
Most of them have taken up residence in California, Virginia, Texas, Florida, New York and Massachusetts – states with large Middle Eastern immigrant populations, the government says. They've also flocked to Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Washington and Missouri.
The influx hasn't dropped much since American bombing of al-Qaida and Taliban targets in Afghanistan paved the way for a new government in Kabul.
According to State spokeswoman Pam Lewis, 1,136 Afghans so far have resettled in the U.S. from the beginning of October through June 30. That compares with 2,964 for all of fiscal 2001. Here is the five-year trend:
1997: 0 1998: 88 1999: 364 2000: 1,710 2001: 2,964 2002 (through June 30): 1,136
Lewis says about 1.7 million Afghans have opted instead to return to their homeland after fleeing to Pakistan and Iran in recent years.
She estimates that more than half of the Afghans that State has allowed to resettle in the U.S. are widows with children. She says exact figures by gender are not available, however.
State plans in the near future to begin processing Afghans for regular immigrant visas through its embassy in Kabul, Lewis confirms.
At the same time, she notes, the Bush administration has pledged nearly $300 million in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to help the country absorb the massive repatriation of citizens.
Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration, questions the wisdom of the U.S. resettling Afghans who might harbor resentment over the U.S. bombing of their motherland. They and their children may also secretly revere terrorist overlord Osama bin Laden, a local hero.
"There is some potential we'll get some very bad apples," he said.
Although there's been no case of a Middle Eastern refugee committing an act of terrorism over the past 10 years, Camarota notes that six al-Qaida terrorists came to the U.S. as asylum applicants.
But he says there's been no effort in Congress to curtail such immigration.
"People sometimes ask me, 'Shouldn't we cut off Middle Eastern immigration until after the war on terrorism?'" Camarota said. "I say, consider the case of Iraq.
"We've had pretty horrible relations with them for the whole 1990s," he continued. "Yet the census shows there are about 70,000 immigrants from Iraq living in the United States who said they came here in the 1990s."
State invited most of them.
The previous Bush administration in 1991 resettled about 35,000 Iraqi refugees who had fled to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War, Lewis says. In 1996, another roughly 6,500 Iraqi Kurds were resettled in America. Both moves were highly controversial.
But Lewis doubts the U.S. will see the same kinds of numbers for Afghans.
Camarota says it won't be without trying.
"State Department field agents are going out to refugee camps on the Pakistani border to try and find people to give (refugee) status to," he complained.
Since fiscal 1975, a total of 35,333 Afghan refugees have resettled in America, Lewis says.
Health and Human Services Department's Office of Refugee Resettlement tracks where they settle among the 50 states.
Between fiscal 1997 to fiscal 2001, 430 Afghan refugees initially moved to Arizona; 583 to California; 326 to Georgia; 199 to Idaho; 223 to Massachusetts; 429 to Missouri; 141 to Nebraska; 403 to Texas; 442 to Virginia; 233 to New York; 254 to Florida; and 109 to Washington, says Judith May, an official in HHS's office of refugee resettlement.
Some 280,000 Iranian-born immigrants and some 270,000 Pakistani immigrants are now living in America, Camarota says. Iran and Pakistan border Afghanistan.
Camarota says the growth of the Middle Eastern immigrant population within the U.S. poses a national security risk.
"If nothing else it provides cover for the real terrorists," he said.
"We know that in the case of the Sept. 11 hijackers, all used Middle Eastern communities in the U.S. to provide them cover, to provide them access to apartments, jobs and so forth," he added.
And as Middle Eastern immigrant communities continue to grow, he says, the opportunities for support grow with them.
"The hijackers just blended into these very large immigrant communities" in Florida, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts, Camarota said.
"It doesn't mean that Middle Eastern immigrant communities are knowingly harboring terrorists," he said. "But it does make life a lot easier for them if those communities are allowed to continue to go through immigration."
Paul Sperry WorldNetDaily
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