WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden has tapped a former governor of his home state, Jack Markell, to temporarily serve as his point person on resettling Afghan evacuees in the United States, White House officials said Friday.
Markell, 60, who served as Delaware’s governor from 2009 to 2017, is a former chair of the National Governors Association and a close adviser to the president. He will be the White House coordinator of what the administration is calling “Operation Allies Welcome,” and he is expected to start next week and stay through the calendar year.
Markell will work with state and local governments, the business sector, religious institutions and nonprofit organizations to ensure the resettlement runs smoothly, officials said. Markell will also focus on interagency screening of evacuees and coronavirus precautions, which begin before Afghans arrive in the country but will require follow-up in the United States, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning.
Markell will team up with domestic and national security policy advisers as well as Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, whose agency is leading the operational effort to vet and resettle evacuees.
Biden tapped Markell because he has a record of managing complex organizations and extensive experience in the public and private sector, the officials said. He is also a former senior vice president of Comcast Corp. and Nextel Communications, and currently runs his own consulting firm.
Biden also nominated Markell in June to serve as the U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which requires Senate confirmation.
Markell was unavailable for an interview Friday but issued a statement saying he was honored to work on resettlement.
"Welcoming these families is in the best traditions of our country, and we are grateful to see the outpouring of support from people across this country who are ready to help resettle vulnerable Afghans and welcome them to their new homes," Markell said.
Mayorkas praised Markell and called the resettlement plan "an all-of-government effort."
"DHS looks forward to working closely with Governor Markell to advance Operation Allies Welcome's noble mission to resettle vulnerable Afghans in the United States, Mayorkas said. "Jack Markell's background and skills will be critical in helping us achieve its success."
More than 31,000 evacuees from Afghanistan landed in the United States between Aug. 17 and 31, according to the Department of Homeland Security, including approximately 7,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents who have the right to remain in the United States. But the evacuees also include nearly 24,000 "Afghans at risk," whose legal status will have to be sorted out over time.
Pentagon officials said this week that the United States and its allies airlifted nearly 125,000 Afghans overall after the Taliban takeover of the country. Many of them are still being processed overseas, and the White House has not said how many it expects to resettle in the United States. Thousands of Afghans who worked with the Americans in Afghanistan were not evacuated, but the administration has said it is committed to getting them out of the country.