Culture shock: Afghan evacuees run afoul of U.S. laws with domestic violence, sex crimes

The 77,000 Afghans evacuated to the U.S. have all been processed and released from military bases, but not before racking up a striking number of criminal entanglements including violence against women and sexual assaults on children.

Federal prosecutors in Virginia charged a man with molesting a 14-year-old girl. As investigators dug into his phone, they said, they found child pornography among thousands of photos he kept. They have now charged him with that offense, too.

Another evacuee stands accused of bashing his wife with a cellphone charger and slashing her wrists with a razor blade. Investigators say he was mad at his wife for taking one of the seats at an evacuee meeting, while his brother had to stand.

Still another evacuee is awaiting sentencing after a jury found him guilty of groping a child. He defended his actions to investigators, saying it was part of his culture to hug and kiss children.

In New Jersey, Khan Wali Rahmani was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon. According to court documents, he became upset when he thought another evacuee was “staring” at him during religious rites. He told investigators he grabbed a metal pipe and smashed the man in the back of the head.

Mr. Rahmani claimed self-defense, though the federal investigator who wrote the criminal complaint dryly noted that he attacked “while Victim #1 kneeled in prayer.”

The bad behavior extends beyond the camps, too.

In Missoula, Montana, prosecutors have charged an evacuee with raping an 18-year-old girl in his hotel room.

In Wisconsin, an evacuee who arrived with his wife and six children and held himself out as a liaison to the community where they settled now stands charged with sexual assault. A woman who had been working with the family said the evacuee told her he had never talked to a woman like her before, said they should act like brother and sister and then tried to get her to fondle him.

Rep. Thomas P. Tiffany, a Wisconsin Republican who has been keeping an eye on evacuees who were sent to Fort McCoy in his state, said, “The cultural differences are stark.”

“It’s part of the reason you have to go slow with any type of immigration situation. We should expect assimilation into our country, and when you just wave in almost 80,000 people of a very different culture than America, you’re inviting real upheaval in local communities,” the congressman told The Washington Times.

Evacuees were supposed to be allies — those who assisted the American war effort and who usually had some English ability and acculturation with Americans. In reality, a majority lack those ties. Who got out was determined more by who was able to make it to the airport.

Once in the U.S., the Afghans were spread out among eight camps run by military bases.

Experts said many of the people who arrived lack the acculturation that authentic allies, who worked with U.S. troops for years, would have had, and that is contributing to difficulties in resettling.

American communities have opened their doors and their wallets to help resettle evacuees. The military has won rave reviews for its ability to stand up the evacuee camps at eight bases across the country.

The vast majority appear to be settling in without criminal entanglements, and some have even started to look for ways to return the generosity of their hosts. In one stirring story, an evacuee in Indiana made headlines after he signed up for the Indiana National Guard, saying he was “grateful” for the opportunities the U.S. had given him.

But there have also been some significant hiccups with the evacuee population, many of which have gone unreported.

New Mexico State Police told The Times that they responded to 85 service calls from the Afghan camp at Holloman Air Force Base. Among them were more than a dozen battery accusations, six domestic violence calls, two prostitution alerts, three disorderly callouts, two child abuse accusations, one indecent exposure and 13 suspicious circumstances reports.

When the Defense Department’s inspector general conducted a review of the base’s handling of Afghan evacuees, the entire section on security was redacted.

Reports on some of the other seven bases that house evacuees exposed serious hiccups and challenges.

At Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, investigators said military and federal law enforcement officers found Afghan leaders in the evacuee camp were hushing up crime reports, particularly domestic violence incidents.

At Fort Pickett in Virginia, base security said they received reports of abuse of women and children, as well as some thefts, but the military police felt they had “limited law enforcement authority” over the evacuees. State and local police, meanwhile, were stretched too thin to be of much assistance.

Even when law enforcement recommended felony charges — in one incident of a stolen vehicle and another case of physical abuse — local magistrates lowered the charges to misdemeanors and the evacuees were “quickly” sent back to the camp, the inspector general said.

The crime reports also never got attached to the culprits’ files. Security personnel told the inspector general that meant families that might choose to sponsor Afghans — helping them find jobs, locate housing or connect to services — would never know of their troubles while at Fort Pickett.

At Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, the inspector general said security personnel found they had “limited options” when dealing with misdemeanors such as thefts or simple assaults. They tried to get the U.S. attorney’s office to prosecute, but in most cases, the federal prosecutor declines.

Base officials’ normal recourse for anyone else in that situation would be to restrict access to the installation, but officials decided that would contradict the welcoming posture the U.S. was trying to maintain to the evacuees.

Instead, they issued warning letters. Over the first two months, the base had to issue 12 warning letters.

The U.S. attorney’s office for western Wisconsin declined to discuss its specific reasons. “We base all of our charging decisions on facts and law and the principles of federal prosecution,” spokesperson Myra Longfield said.

Mr. Tiffany, the congressman from Wisconsin, said prosecutors faced tricky decisions about how to handle the evacuee population.

He said the blame lies on the Biden administration for the way the evacuees were brought in the first place, under the homeland security secretary’s power of parole, rather than a formal immigrant visa or refugee status.

“It goes back to the ham-handed way in which our federal government — in particular the Department of Homeland Security — has dealt with this issue, and it was we’re just going to put these people on the planes and get them out of Kabul and to America rather than sorting out their immigration status first,” he said.

Among the cases that have emerged from the camps is that of Alif Jan Adil, accused of molesting a teenage girl under a blanket. According to investigators, he said they were in love, but when confronted by an Afghan translator who said it was against his culture, he became remorseful and admitted guilt.

When investigators went through Mr. Adil’s phone, they said, they also found child pornography. He now stands charged with that crime in addition to aggravated sexual battery involving the girl.

The girl told authorities her mother threatened to kill her “because she had brought negative attention to their family for making these allegations.”

In another case from Wisconsin, investigators said an evacuee struck his children, choked his wife and threatened to kill her. 

“He beat me many times in Afghanistan to the point I lost vision in both eyes,” the woman told authorities. She said her husband also threatened to send her back to Afghanistan for the Taliban to “deal with.”

Mohammad Imaad was convicted of disorderly conduct and was sentenced to time served.

Every criminal prosecution The Times has reviewed involved a male defendant. In nearly every case, the victim was a woman.

One exception was in New Jersey, where Mr. Rahmani is accused of beating a man he thought was staring at him during prayers.

Another exception was in Wisconsin, where a man was charged with attempted sexual assault of two young teen boys.

There could be other cases under investigation. Federal prosecutors said they can’t talk about referrals that haven’t been charged.

One high-profile case out of Fort Bliss involved a female soldier who said she was assaulted by a “small group” of male evacuees. No charges have been filed in that case.

As the first charges emerged in September, Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, head of U.S. Northern Command, said the numbers were still comparatively low.

“I’ve done some research,” the general said. “What we’re seeing is law enforcement violations that are on par, and in most cases significantly lower than, similarly sized populations across the U.S.”

He also pointed out that cases were reported to authorities by fellow evacuees.

At the time the general made his remarks, he said, eight cases were under investigation.

Neither the Homeland Security Department nor U.S. Northern Command would divulge final criminal investigation numbers, but Northern Command said it sticks by the general’s evaluation.

“From DoD’s perspective, due to efforts at each task force to provide cultural training and education, incidents of crime dramatically reduced over time to average well below most similarly sized populations across the country,” Northern Command told The Times in a statement.

Homeland Security, in its response to questions about criminal behavior by evacuees, detailed the database screening Afghans went through before being brought to the U.S. and warnings delivered to Afghans about breaking the law once they were in the country.

“If individuals engage in criminal activity or additional information becomes available that raises a concern, the U.S. government takes action, which can include prosecution, revocation of parole, and placement into removal proceedings,” the department said.

The Times reached out to several Afghan-American organizations for this article but received no response.

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