Wis. House Republicans describe vetting process, life inside Fort McCoy
Lawmakers described seeing refugees getting food and talking on cell phones, as well as children playing with American soldiers.
FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WMTV) - Wisconsin’s House Republicans toured Fort McCoy Friday, saying they have more questions about the base for Afghan refugees.
Five Republican lawmakers, led by Rep. Mike Gallagher (WI-08), said after a drive-by of the facility, they got insight into the process that allows refugees to be there. They called Fort McCoy a “reception station,” rather than a place for vetting.
Based on a briefing led by a major general at the base, Rep. Gallagher said most of the vetting of the Afghan refugees happens at “lily pads” that are abroad. The refugees, he said, are then sent through a second stage of vetting upon reaching U.S. soil.
“They are doing some vetting here, biometrics, following up,” he said, “trying to piece together whatever identification these people have, seeing if they’re eligible for work permits, things like that, but most of the national security vetting is happening prior to people arriving at Fort McCoy.”
Earlier this week, Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin was asked her thoughts on the process of bringing evacuees to Fort McCoy.
She said the U.S. has a “moral obligation” to not just help U.S. Nationals in Afghanistan, but many of the Afghan translators as well.
Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (WI-05) said he and his fellow lawmakers still have questions.
“It looks like they are on track,” Rep. Fitzgerald said, “but like the other members said, when you dig a little deeper into the visas and the legalities, we still have a lot of questions I think.”
Rep. Bryan Steil (WI-01), Rep. Tom Tiffany (WI-07) and Rep. Glenn Grothman (WI-06) were also present.
“The people in this facility are doing a great job,” Rep. Grothman said. “Their goal is to, for a lack of a better word, Americanize people or familiarize the new immigrants as to what their new country is like and to make sure they adapt very well.”
LIFE INSIDE THE BASE
At a separate press briefing Friday, Department of Defense officials gave an update on Afghan refugee operations. Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck said Fort McCoy is currently housing 2,383 refugees, with a capacity for 10,000 people.
Wisconsin lawmakers said refugees were sleeping in barracks and described seeing refugees getting food and talking on cell phones. Rep. Gallagher said he saw children playing with American soldiers.
Looking ahead, lawmakers said they were told the refugees may stay at the Wisconsin base between two to four weeks, then they can make their ways around the country.
Rep. Steil said families could leave the base if they wanted.
Friday marked the second time this week that Republican legislators have visited the site. Governor Tony Evers also stopped by the base, but did not have media availability.
“Our allies from Afghanistan have a long road ahead of them, and Wisconsin will continue to extend our support and assistance to these individuals who bravely contributed to our country’s efforts over the past two decades,” said Evers on Wednesday.
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