Senators voted Thursday to give Afghan evacuees a speedier path to getting driver’s licenses, overcoming objections of Republicans who said they were being granted a shortcut around the usual security checks.
The vote came as part of a broader debate on government funding for the coming fiscal year, which pumps billions of dollars into assistance for Afghan evacuees and speeds their path toward asylum.
One of those moves is to waive requirements of the REAL ID law, put in place after the 2001 terrorist attacks to try to keep bad actors from getting identification documents.
Sen. Rob Portman said that shortcuts one of the vetting checks the Biden administration had promised. He and other Republicans backed an amendment that would have required Afghan evacuees to meet the same standards as anyone else applying for a REAL ID driver’s license or identification card.
“It simply requires Afghan parolees to follow the same processes other parolees must follow,” the Ohio Republican said.
But Democrats said the GOP was trying to throw roadblocks in the way of the Afghans.
“He wants to limit their ability to settle into a new life,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat.
She and fellow Democrats prevailed on a 50-50 vote.
The broader spending bill was expected to clear Congress later in the day.
Some 50,000 Afghans have been brought to the U.S. under a tentative legal status known as “humanitarian parole.” Many are expected to apply for asylum, which would give them more permanent status.
The bill speeds that process, requiring quick interviews and decisions, and extends government assistance to them as if they were refugees.
As the vote was taking place on the Senate floor, former President Donald Trump weighed in, calling the bill an “insult” to the country.
“Snuck into the government funding bill, or CR, the Democrats are trying to pass, and just found, is unlimited money to random, unscreened, unvetted Afghan nationals. Republicans can’t let this happen,” he said in a statement.
He said the bill grants the power to admit Afghan evacuees “for the next year — no vetting, no screening, no security — and fly them to your community with free welfare and government-issued IDs.”
In fact, the administration already claims the power under parole to admit unlimited numbers of Afghan evacuees.
The administration also says vetting is being done, though at least two people with previous deportations and serious criminal records have been found to have made it through the vetting.