Montana's governor has called for a halt in the resettlement of refugees from Afghanistan after an evacuee was charged with rape.
In a letter sent to President Joe Biden on Wednesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte said that while he welcomes evacuees fleeing the Taliban to the state, he had “grave concerns” about the vetting process.
“The system requires a careful, immediate reevaluation,” wrote Gianforte. “As governor, the safety, security, and wellbeing of Montanans is my top priority. Tragic events over the last few weeks, including one in Montana, have brought to the front issues with your vetting system,” he added.
Gianforte was referring to the recent arrest of 19-year-old Zabihullah Mohmand, who was charged with sexually assaulting an 18-year-old woman. According to court documents, the victim called 911 early on the morning of Oct. 17 to report that she had been raped.
For his part, Mohmand claimed the sex was consensual.
NBC Montana reported last week that Mohmand was an Afghan evacuee resettled in Missoula as part of the federal government’s resettlement program.
Gianforte told Biden that he wanted a halt to the resettlement program until certain issues were resolved, specifically an explanation on how the federal government vetted Mohmand, details on reforms that will be made to the vetting system, a commitment by the federal government to cover all costs tied to Mohmand’s prosecution, imprisonment and possible deportation.
Montana's governor is not the only elected official in Montana demanding answers from the Biden administration. Last week, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., wrote a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas asking for detailed information about the justification for why Mohmand received humanitarian parole status.
Specifically, Daines asked, “Did Mr. Mohmand work with U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan or any other government entity?” He went on to condemn the administration’s generic statements concerning the sexual assault in Missoula as “deeply insufficient.”
In a statement obtained by the Montana-based news outlet KULR, a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security said: “Before individuals are permitted to enter the United States, they are subject to rigorous, multi-layered screening and vetting processes that involve biometric and biographic screenings conducted by intelligence, law enforcement, and counterterrorism professionals from the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, FBI, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), and additional Intelligence Community partners.”
Mohmand is not the only Afghan refugee to face criminal charges for actions they took after arriving in the U.S. Last month, a grand jury charged two Afghan men with crimes while residing at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. The unrelated cases involved 20-year-old Bahrullah Noori, who's facing charges for attempting to have sex with a minor and three counts of engaging in a sex act with a minor, all by force. The other case involves 32-year-old Mohammad Haroon Imaad, who's facing charges of strangling and suffocating his wife.
“Noori and Imaad were charged previously in complaints filed in U.S. District Court,” explained a U.S. Department of Justice press release on Sept. 22. “If convicted, Noori faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 30 years and a maximum of life in federal prison on the charges alleging use of force, and a maximum penalty of 15 years on the other two charges. Imaad faces a maximum penalty of 10 years.”
Earlier this month, Reuters reported that more than 700 Afghans who were flown to the U.S. had left their temporary housing on U.S. bases before completing their resettlement process. U.S. officials said that those departures involved Afghans who had been screened for any security issues and many were believed to already have family in the area.
Other concerns that have been raised involve child brides evacuated out of Afghanistan who were brought to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin and transit sites overseas. Last month, a State Department document showed that it sought “urgent guidance” from other agencies on what to do because child marriage is illegal in the U.S. and some girls said they had been raped.