report released in late October by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) tells a story as familiar to American immigration authorities as it is now to American military officials. The recent murder of eight in New York City is likewise a savage reminder of how little we know about the many we invite past our borders and into our neighborhoods. 

Between 2005 and 2017, according to the report, 2,537 military trainees from Afghanistan arrived here. Over the same period, six percent — 152 of them — went AWOL (absent without leave). While 70 fled the U.S., 27 were placed in deportation proceedings. Strangely, 39 absconders were awarded legal status and 3 more were allowed to return to class. But worryingly, 13 remain at-large and this worry is real.

Trainees receive superior combat instruction. Their disappearances implicate national security because they involve fighting age, weapons-trained recruits who are demonstrated flight risks. Except for possible return to Afghanistan, SIGAR found trainees suffer no consequences for going AWOL. As a result, AWOL rates are expected to remain steady or increase, and potential security threats will persist. These dynamics and their parallels to America’s experiences with other aliens are dramatically similar, invoke the same threats, and disclose a larger truth.

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