ALAMOGORDO – Two of the New Mexico congressional officials visited the facilities for Afghan refugees at Holloman Air Force Base on Tuesday.
Both praised the rapid construction of temporary housing, cafeterias, and play areas and services for Afghan nationals evacuated following the United States’ withdrawal from its 20-year engagement in Afghanistan.
They differed, however, in their satisfaction with the selection and screening processes for thousands of people, some of whom are eligible for special immigration visas and others pursuing other applications while in the country.
US Representative Melanie Stansbury, a Democrat, called the refugee “village” of Holloman “an extraordinary operation” where she observed families being treated and receiving services before being connected to displacement outside the area. they will reside while their claims are pending. to treat.
The facilities can accommodate up to 5,000 people who are expected to stay for weeks or even months. On Tuesday, she said just over 2,000 people were at the site, with planes filled with new arrivals landing during her tour.
The Ministry of Defense expect at least 50,000 refugees to arrive at a total of eight facilities in the United States by September 15, with the possibility of needing space in additional bases.
U.S. Representative Yvette Herrell, a Republican representing all of southern New Mexico, also praised the accommodation and hospitality given to the refugees.
Members were not allowed to take photos but described what they saw to reporters, including large temporary structures with internal partitions to allow some privacy for families, multi-purpose spaces for meals and children. refreshments and play areas.
According to an environmental assessment project Holloman announced on Wednesday, the temporary shelters are being erected on vacant land within the facility, with space used in three existing buildings for treatment and support services.
Stansbury said she had been told arrivals were all tested for COVID-19 and only a few positive cases had been confirmed. Herrell said other health issues, including untreated injuries sustained in Afghanistan, were receiving attention on the base as a person was transported for treatment at a local hospital.
The two members responded to the final days of the US withdrawal from Kabul, including a terrorist attack that killed 13 US servicemen and at least 169 civilians.
“It is difficult to really understand the scale of the casualties, especially of our military and many civilians who were lost in the final days of the evacuation and 20 years of service,” Stansbury said.
Herrell called the evacuation a “debacle” and criticized the Biden administration, saying the deaths could have been prevented.
Stansbury said she was happy with the process put in place under Operation Allies Welcome to confirm identities and conduct security checks on refugees.
According to the Ministry of Homeland Security, these checks include biographical and biometric examinations in third countries such as Bahrain, Germany, Kuwait, Italy, Qatar, Spain and United Arab Emirates, before transport to the United States.
DHS says most Afghan nationals will be allowed to stay in the country for a period of two years while applying for immigration status and work authorization under conditions set by federal agencies. Those who have completed special immigration visa (SIV) applications receive assistance from the State Department and non-governmental resettlement organizations.
“People have been scanned, their papers have been examined – by the time they get here they’ve already gone through three or four different stops,” Stansbury said.
Herrell said she is looking for another detailed briefing to address both potential security holes and the merits of individual apps.
“There are still unanswered questions as to how many people here were interpreters, what their role was in Afghanistan, what are they doing here and how long will it take to get them vetted properly,” a- she said after her tour.
Herrell argued that the United States should prioritize the evacuation of American citizens who remain in Afghanistan and wish to leave as well as “protecting Americans on American soil.”
“No one wants to see a repeat of a September 11 situation,” she said, recalling the memory of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks by the terrorist group Al Qaeda. “So I think the American people deserve answers. They deserve to understand the verification process and who is in our nation right now.”
Herrell said she hopes to inspect the second and much larger Afghan refugee center in New Mexico soon. Refugees arriving for treatment at Fort Bliss in El Paso are accommodated at the Doña Ana Range settlement, north of Chaparral.
Based on what she observed, Herrell said she would advocate allowing news outlets to visit the sites.
“The media should be invited … to show the hospitality and mission of Holloman, because it’s amazing what these men and women have done and accomplished,” Herrell said.