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UPDATED: Governor asks for halt on Afghan resettlements following evacuee's arrest

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Gianforte, Daines, Rosendale

Gov. Greg Gianforte, Sen. Steve Daines, Rep. Matt Rosendale

Gov. Greg Gianforte, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and U.S. Rep. Matt Rosendale are calling for President Biden to stop Afghan resettlements in Montana after a humanitarian evacuee from Afghanistan was charged with sexual assault in Missoula earlier this week.

Zabihullah Mohmand, 19, appeared in Missoula Justice Court on Tuesday. He is charged with one count of sexual intercourse without consent, a felony. The alleged survivor told officials Mohmand is from Afghanistan, charging documents said.

In an email to the Missoulian on Thursday, Jon Ebelt, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, confirmed Mohmand is part of the federal Afghan Placement and Assistance Program. He is one of 20 Afghan evacuees currently in Montana.

Mohmand told police he was visiting Missoula on a worldwide trip, charging documents said. He did not mention being part of a resettlement program.

The public defender, Ted Fellman, said at Tuesday’s hearing that Mohmand is an immigrant who has been staying in Missoula.

A statement from Daines' office said Mohmand was admitted to the United States and placed in Montana under Humanitarian Parole, which is separate from the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program.

The International Rescue Committee confirmed this information to Daines’ office late Wednesday afternoon, Daines spokeswoman Katie Schoettler said in an email to the Missoulian.

Both Daines and Gianforte called on the Biden administration to give answers about the vetting process being used for Afghan refugees resettling in Montana.

"While I welcome our fully-vetted Afghan allies to Montana, this situation and others across the country raise serious concerns about whether the Biden administration is meeting its obligations to fully vet Afghans prior to resettlement,” Gianforte’s statement said. “I'm calling on President Biden to immediately halt resettlements to Montana until federal agencies provide me with adequate assurance that Afghans coming to Montana are fully-vetted in accordance with federal law."

Rosendale also called for Biden to halt resettlement, and to remove Afghan evacuees that have been resettled in the U.S. He said Mohmand did not go through the 14-step vetting process required to obtain a visa.

"We remain steadfast that the circumstances and alleged actions of one individual are not reflective of refugee or immigrant communities. For decades we have welcomed immigrant families and have watched them thrive and contribute to their communities and the nation," a statement from the International Rescue Committee said.

Randall Caudle, an immigration attorney based in Missoula, said while he understands the politicians' concerns and agrees Afghans should be fully vetted, he doesn’t think this individual’s actions represent all Afghan people seeking refuge in Montana.

“One person is not reflective of all the nationals of a country,” Caudle said.

Ebelt emphasized federal agencies are responsible for the vetting process prior to parolees’ arrival.

“Afghan parolees are expected to abide by the laws of the United States, both while in military installations and as resettled members of local communities,” said a statement from the Department of Homeland Security.

Afghan parolees are briefed on U.S. law and the conditions of their parole while they are refugees at military bases.

Those who violate the law may be placed into removal proceedings, the statement 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,” the statement continued.

Mohmand is being held on $50,000 bond at the Missoula County Detention Facility.

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