NM members of Congress tour Afghan refugee site

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

U.S. Reps. Melanie Stansbury and Yvette Herrell of New Mexico on Tuesday visited Holloman Air Force Base, where thousands of Afghan refugees are living until they can start new lives in America.

U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell

Herrell, the lone Republican member of Congress from New Mexico, before the tour had raised questions about the vetting of Afghan citizens who recently evacuated from their home country. Meanwhile, Stansbury, a Democrat who represents the Albuquerque area, said she wanted to find out how the federal government can best support the needs of the Afghans.

After leaving the tour, Stansbury said in a video posted on Facebook that the base has about 2,000 refugees and plans to temporarily serve 5,000.

“These are our allies from Afghanistan who came from throughout the country. Many of them are Afghan military; they are folks who worked as translators … ” she said. “They are now here in New Mexico with their families and are going through the paperwork and processing so they can ultimately go to the places where they will create their new homes here in the United States.”

Officials at Holloman said the Afghans are at different points in the application process.

“As such, the visa process is different for each person or family depending on where they are in the process, and that will impact how long they will be housed here,” a spokeswoman for a task force assisting the Afghans said in an email.

The base near Alamogordo on Aug. 31 started receiving people who had recently fled Afghanistan, which has fallen back to Taliban control after America’s 20-year war in the country ended.

U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury

Holloman officials built Douglas Village as a temporary lodging area for the Afghans, complete with halal dining, which means the food adheres to Islamic law, and areas set up to allow for religious activities and recreation. The refugees will be able to get medical care at the base, according to a Holloman news release.

The effort is part of Operation Allies Welcome, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security mission to accommodate 50,000 Afghan evacuees.

Most of the refugees are living at military bases while waiting for visas to be processed. Similar arrangements have been made at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Lee in Virginia, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, Fort Pickett in Virginia and other military facilities, according to The Associated Press.

Holloman officials said the refugees are staying in accommodations that resemble how airmen and soldiers are living on base. They said the base is working to make the living arrangements “culturally appropriate and comfortable.”

Herrell, who represents most of the southern part of the state, raised concerns about how the refugees are being vetted.

“The American people deserve to know who is coming to their communities, how the government is vetting them, and the conditions on bases housing Afghan nationals,” she said in a news release prior to her tour. “The Biden administration’s track record of disastrous and deadly failure in Afghanistan should not be allowed to extend to this process. I look forward to reporting on the situation at Holloman following my visit.”

Officials with Herrell’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment about her reaction to the tour.

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