Portman: We Must Ensure National Security Through Proper Vetting Prior to Giving REAL ID Driver’s Licenses for Afghan Evacuees

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered remarks on the Senate floor in support of his amendment with Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) to the continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 3, which would require that Afghan evacuees follow normal vetting procedures prior to receiving REAL ID driver’s licenses. This would allow them to board commercial airplanes and enter federal facilities and military bases. The REAL ID program was created to enhance security on commercial airlines and in federal facilities after 9/11. This amendment would protect national security by requiring that Afghan parolees not be exempted from the federal REAL ID requirements. The amendment also places a responsible 18-month time limit on housing, food, and medical benefits for Afghan parolees. Under current law, Afghan evacuees with special immigrant visas who helped our forces in Afghanistan only receive those same benefits for a maximum of eight months. Finally, the amendment mandates that the Department of Homeland Security conduct expeditious adjudication of Afghan asylum applications. The amendment vote failed and thus the amendment was not made to the continuing resolution, resulting in Portman’s decision to vote against on the final package. 

Portman supports the resettlement of Afghans who stood in battle with the U.S. over the last 20 years, but the administration has not provided the Senate answers on the screening, vetting, and status of the vast majority of the evacuees who were paroled into the U.S. and whether they have worked with us or our allies. Portman has repeatedly requested a classified member briefing on the vetting and screening procedures for Afghan evacuees since September 1, and the administration has not yet provided that briefing to ensure the Senate has the information it needs to perform oversight and address the administration’s legislative requests. 

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here. 

“Mr. President, I rise on the floor in support of this amendment. I think it’s important that we pass it, and I hope my colleagues on both sides of the aisle support it. As we all know, as a result of the rushed and chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan, people were left behind, including some American citizens and a lot of Afghans who had helped us. But because of the chaos, we also evacuated many Afghans who have no record of assisting us or our allies. 

“In fact, we were told by the administration that the majority of the evacuees in the United States, called parolees, are neither U.S. citizens, green card holders, or SIV applicants who had helped us. This is a common-sense amendment to simply make sure those parolees are properly vetted, like any other group of parolees or refugees would be. 

“Part of that vetting, of course, comes from individuals applying for what’s known as the REAL ID, a system designed to make identity documents more consistent and secure. Remember, the REAL ID law came out of the 9/11 Commission. It was a key recommendation of that Commission. We supported it here. Our amendment does not stop Afghan parolees from getting driver’s licenses or qualifying for REAL ID cards after appropriate screening. It simply requires Afghan parolees to follow the same processes that other parolees must follow in order to be eligible. Unfortunately, the CR before us makes an exception to that normal common-sense security process.”