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White House says refugees coming for Fort McCoy properly vetted

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Dining facility

A dining facility is being prepared for the arrival of Afghans at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Aug. 18,

White House officials moved to assure local residents that the Afghan refugees arriving in the United States are being properly vetted.

During a background briefing Monday with reporters via Zoom, an official said refugees are undergoing “robust security protocols, including “biometric and biographic” screenings conducted by intelligence officials, before they’re permitted on American soil.

“All Afghans receive that screening before they’re allowed in the United States,” an official said.

Fort McCoy is one of three military installations approved by the Department of Defense to provide temporary housing for Afghans fleeing their homeland after the withdrawal of U.S. military forces.

The first refugees arrived at Fort McCoy Sunday. They include those with special immigration visas who assisted American military forces and other citizens considered “vulnerable,” such as female journalists and educators.

The screening process has been questioned by Republican lawmakers. U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Hazelhurst, said last Wednesday he is “deeply disturbed by reports that as many as 5,000 Afghans per day are headed to the United States — many without valid visas or basic identity documents.”

A White House official said the vetting process includes a “full medical screening,” including testing for COVID-19. Anyone who tests positive will be quarantined.

“Our goal ultimately is to welcome these individuals safely and efficiently while taking appropriate safety and public health measures,” an official said.

Refugees are also being housed at Fort Bliss, Texas, and Fort Lee, New Jersey. The official said the situation is fluid and couldn’t say how many refugees are expected to go through any of the three installations or how long they will be there.

“There will be movement in, and there will be movement out,” an official said. “We are quite conscious about not overtaxing any particular facility, any particular community.”

An official said the federal government has reached out to resettlement organizations “that specialize in helping people in this type of situation begin new lives in America.”

Civic leaders in La Crosse met last week to discuss economic and spiritual support for the new arrivals.

State Sen. Pat Testin, R-Stevens Point, raised the issue of local impacts Friday in an open letter to Gov. Tony Evers.

“Refugees are eligible for Medical Assistance, BadgerCare, W2, and cash assistance,” Testin wrote. “Has your administration calculated the added cost to Wisconsin taxpayers of 10-20,000 individuals who will doubtless be enrolled in these programs?”

State Rep. Nancy VanderMeer, R-Tomah, said Monday she has requested a “formal briefing” on the matter to “address questions pertaining to the number of Afghans that are expected to arrive at Fort McCoy, short- and long-term plans for the duration of housing, whether or not there are plans to keep these individuals in the Monroe County area and what, if any, related workforce or educational needs may arise.”

"Our goal ultimately is to welcome these individuals safely and efficiently while taking appropriate safety and public health measures."

White House official 

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Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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