As Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, the Pentagon has announced plans to relocate Afghan refugees to the United States.
The Department of Defense named Camp McCoy in Wisconsin and Fort Bliss in El Paso as bases that are currently “under assessment” for bringing in up to 22,000 refugees. The number of spaces for refugees and bases that house them could grow, too.
While several details on the plan are yet to become clear, the U.S. has been housing Afghans at another base on U.S. soil since July. Here’s what we know about the process:
In July, Afghans were flown to Fort Lee in Virginia as part of a mission dubbed “Operation Allies Refuge.” The State Department-led program relocates those who have applied for special immigrant visas (more on that below). Many of the refugees have worked as interpreters for the U.S. in Afghanistan during the past two decades.
Once they arrived at the base, a task force provided them with temporary housing, medical screening, food, religious support and other necessities, according to a Department of Defense press release.
The refugees stay at the base for about a week or until their visa has been approved. From there, they have traveled to stay with relatives living in the U.S., a host family or resettle nearby. Lutheran Social Services called for support in helping to resettle Afghan refugees in the Washington D.C area.
The first group of about 200 Afghans arrived at Fort Lee on July 30, but 3,500 people are expected to come through the program.
A Special Immigrant Visa, otherwise known as an SIV, is available to Afghans or Iraqis who worked with U.S. military or under the Chief of Mission authority as a translator or interpreter in Iraq or Afghanistan. A bill passed earlier this year increased the number of visas available to 34,500.
A multi-step process is required to apply for the visa includes showing ID, proof of a U.S. military background check, a letter of recommendation and a filing fee of $435. After filing and a security check, an in-person interview must be conducted at a U.S. embassy or consulate. Those who are approved may then travel to the U.S. and become eligible for benefits under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
The program has come under scrutiny from non-profits, who say the program has taken about three and a half years for applicants to complete in recent years.
The Department of Defense said on Monday that since relocating Afghans at the end of July, 2,000 SIV candidates have been brought to the U.S. The agency said it plans to grow evacuations from 20 to 30 per day to 5,000 per day.
Earlier this month, the department also announced Afghans who don’t qualify for an SIV could apply for a Priority 2 designation for USRAP. A “P2” designation applies to those “groups of special concern designated by the Department of State as having access to the program by virtue of their circumstances and apparent need for resettlement.”
Refugee Services of Texas announced Monday to resettle more than 300 Afghan refugees in major cities across Texas like Austin and Dallas. The non-profit says it has welcomed 2,400 refugees on SIVs since 2010. The organization has not yet announced plans to relocate the refugees to the El Paso region.
It’s too early to say whether Fort Bliss will coordinate with any El Paso non-profits to help with transitions to the U.S. Any update to those efforts will be included here.
As one federal department sees Fort Bliss as a location, another investigates case management at the base. Investigators at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General are looking into how a program for migrant children at the base was handled.
The base has housed migrants multiple times, most recently holding thousands of unaccompanied migrants in late 2000 and early 2021.
The review of HHS will review case management and if it impacted the release of children to sponsors. The department’s Office of Refugee Resettlement is required by law to take custody of unaccompanied minors at the border, providing them care and shelter while searching for a sponsor in the U.S.
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