They can live, work, and travel freely within the country, must pay their taxes, and those age 18-25 are even required to register with the Selective Service to potentially defend the nation in times of emergency. According to recent estimates, there are nearly 14 million green-card holders within the United States, many of them eligible to apply for full citizenship.
Yet, the federal government doesn’t know exactly how many were left behind after the military withdrew from Afghanistan. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told lawmakers Monday, “I think the best estimates are that there’s several thousand green-card holders in Afghanistan.”
As America’s longest war came to an abrupt and chaotic end, the Biden administration focused its attention on evacuating American citizens. Blinken reported that as of last week the number had dropped to around 100 who are still looking to leave. Estimates of legal permanent residents, however, remain murky.
When Rep. Lee Zeldin demanded an accounting during a rapid-fire exchange in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken explained the lack of certainty because “green-card holders is something we don’t track directly.” The State Department, he told the New York Republican, has “solicited people, if they are green-card holders, to let us know.”
Republicans are seething at what they see as shoddy accounting of human capital punctuating an already humiliating military withdrawal. “It’s beyond unacceptable that we still have no accurate count of Americans, LPRs and SIVs who remain in the country and need assistance,” Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the committee, told RealClearPolitics, referring to lawful permanent residents and holders of special immigrant visas.
“We had several green card holders my office was working with who were never contacted by the State Department before the evacuation was over,” he added.
The secretary insisted in the committee hearing, as the administration has previously, that President Biden’s commitment to these people endures. Helping them escape Afghanistan is a much harder task without the presence of the U.S. military, however, and the administration’s assurance only added to GOP outrage. The calmness White House press secretary Jen Psaki projected from the podium in a press briefing last week had the opposite of its intended effect. Asked if the administration had a count of legal permanent residents still on the ground, Psaki replied, “Of course.”
“We do have counts and the State Department is the best source to give accurate information about all of these numbers, and of course we account for legal permanent residents as well,” Psaki explained before noting that the exact figures can go up and down because of the fluid and challenging situation on the ground.
While most of the public attention has centered on citizens stranded in Afghanistan, reporters have been told little when pressing the administration for information about those who qualify for legal resident status in the U.S. Did the daily evacuation updates include green-card holders, RCP asked the day the last U.S. soldier left Kabul. The State Department did not respond.
Blinken’s answer Monday was the clearest response to date on the question. But a White House aide insisted that there was no discrepancy between that testimony and what Psaki told the press last week.
“As Secretary Blinken noted today, we don’t require American citizens or legal permanent residents to register with us, so the numbers that the State Department have are based on self-reporting. Jen was referring in her answer to those approximate numbers maintained by the State Department,” the aide said.
“Secretary Blinken was asked today for the exact number of legal permanent residents remaining in Afghanistan, which is a separate question, and outlined the same approximate numbers that the State Department maintains, which Jen referred to last week,” the aide added.
Even while America’s top diplomat took a beating during his committee hearing, he took care to thank individual members of Congress for their cooperation, noting how both Republicans and Democrats had worked with the administration to identify Americans and Afghan allies desperate for a way out of the country. An exhausted congressional staffer who had helped shepherd vulnerable individuals to the Kabul airport in recent weeks, but was not authorized to speak on the record, wasn’t impressed. “It is infuriating,” the congressional aide said of Blinken’s testimony.
“What about green-card holders? I have several green card holders who can’t get inside the gates,” the aide asked the State Department in emails reviewed by RCP.
“What am I supposed to tell them?” the aide asked again the next day. Again, no answer.
During more than five hours of testimony, Republicans called on Blinken to resign three different times for his handling of the withdrawal.
“In American history, American families have never been at a greater risk of attack at home than today,” Rep. Joe Wilson told Blinken. “The global war on terrorism is not over; it has been moved from abroad to American homes. As the grateful father of an Afghanistan veteran, I especially see your actions as indefensible.
“Your bizarre abandoning of Bagram Airfield led directly to 13 Marines murdered at Kabul,” that South Carolina Republican added as his allotted time ran out. “You should resign.”
Blinken responded by thanking Wilson for his support of members of the State Department. “I appreciated that part of his statement. Thank you,” the diplomat replied.