Several of Wisconsin’s Democrats in Congress said they are confident that Afghan refugees arriving at Fort McCoy will undergo a thorough investigation process before they will resettle across the country.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Representatives Ron Kind and Mark Pocan on Tuesday toured Monroe County base with several Democratic lawmakers.
During a press conference outside the base’s main gate, Baldwin criticized Republicans for suggesting that U.S. officials did not properly screen the evacuees until they allowed them into the country on parole.
“Any insinuation from my Republican colleagues that these refugees are unsupervised is false. We should not be distracted by these allegations in bad faith and instead have to focus our energy on ensuring that the staff at Fort McCoy have “Everything they need to do their job and the refugees in Our care have what they need to live comfortably and be reintegrated,” Baldwin said.
Kind said he was comfortable with the “extreme control process” that officials described in Tuesday’s briefing. He said evacuees underwent a “multilayer process” that includes biometric screening.
Last week, a US State Department official said that people from Afghanistan were being investigated in a stopover like Germany or Qatar and screened again at Dulles Airport in Washington DC before arriving in Wisconsin.
Speaking on the condition that they are not named, the official said refugees in Fort McCoy on probation are likely to remain at the base for “a matter of weeks” to undergo the paperwork and medical screening required by the immigration process.
Some people living at the base are U.S. citizens or legal residents who are waiting for their families to complete the immigration process. The official said most of the evacuees arrive as families and that there are a large number of children, including infants, at the base.
Pocan said refugees could begin completing the immigration process and leave the base for their permanent home as early as this weekend. He said that all but one of the arrivals had received the COVID-19 vaccine as part of their medical screening.
Kind confirmed that officials had reported “a very small amount” of COVID-19 infections among the evacuees, but said lawmakers did not get an exact number of positive cases.
A senior official said last week that Fort McCoy had expanded its capacity to house 13,000 evacuees. As of Friday, there were nearly 9,000 people already staying at the base. A spokesman for the base said the US Department of Homeland Security had decided not to disclose the exact number of Afghans at each reception center.
On Tuesday, Baldwin told Fort McCoy could end up receiving more than 13,000 people at the end of the US evacuation from Afghanistan.
“As people switch through and beds open up, it will be an opportunity for the future. But there are no planes coming right now, “Baldwin said.
She said the refugees will be resettled across the country based on whether they already have family or other connections in the United States. But Baldwin said she has heard many Wisconsin communities express an eagerness to welcome refugees locally.
She said 98 percent of U.S. citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan when U.S. troops withdrew were able to do so. She said the federal government remains committed to getting the remaining citizens out if they want to leave.