Military officials blocked a Republican lawmaker from taking photos inside a New Mexico refugee camp where Afghan immigrants are free to leave anytime — even though 14 have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a report Wednesday.
US Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-NM) told the Daily Mail that she was granted a tour of the tent city set up at the Holloman Air Force Base outside Alamogordo on Tuesday after initially being denied access, and saw 150 refugees get off a Southwest Airlines flight.
“They get them off the plane, they showed us the process,” she said.
“They’re fatigued, they’re tired, they’re hungry. They right away give them a refreshment, you know, water, some food, then they go through a very quick screening.”
Herrell told the Mail that she was prevented from photographing conditions inside the camp, although the Defense Department’s US Northern Command posted select photos of the visit on its official Twitter account.
Herrell reportedly described seeing tents that covered “several thousand square feet” and were sectioned off with heavy black plastic to create sleeping quarters, as well as a multi-purpose room, a cafeteria and showers.
US officials have said they’re building “eight small cities” to house a total of 50,000 Afghan refugees at military bases across the country, with the largest contingent — about 8,800 — at US Army Fort McCoy in western Wisconsin.
Herrell said that of the 2,000 refugees at Holloman AFB, “they had 14 positive COVID tests,” after which those people were quarantined.
But there is nothing preventing any other refugees from leaving except for a rule that says if “they leave, they can’t come back,” Herrell said.
“They are unable to hold them there against their will,” she said.
“[When] the Afghan refugee wants to leave the base, they absolutely can.”
Officials “don’t expect very many of them to leave,” however, because refugees at the base are being fast-tracked for immigration processing, with those holding Special Immigrant Visas — for having been employed by or on behalf of the US government — eligible for permanent residency, Herrell said.
“President Biden, as I understand that, wants to give these, these Afghans actual status, you know, citizenship status so that they can vote,” she added.
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, immigrants to the US can apply for naturalization to become citizens after five years as lawful permanent residents.
Herrell is among several GOP lawmakers who are drafting a letter to Biden to express their “grave concern about the rushed and incomplete vetting of Afghan evacuees being brought to the United States,” according to a draft version obtained by the Mail.
“We absolutely have a responsibility to honor our promise to help the Afghan nationals and their families,” Herrell said.
“That’s absolutely priority, but we also have a priority to ensure the system is going to work and that we’re not going to find ourselves setting America up for another attack.”
She added: “It just rings, you know, an alarm bell because we understand that there’s not that much data available…There’s some incredible people there but, you know, it only takes one.”
During a Wednesday briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended the vetting process for Afghan refugees, who are subjected to background checks in a third country, such as Germany or Qatar, before they’re brought to the US, the Mail said.
“We’re not going to allow flights that have hundreds of people who [we] don’t know who they are, who haven’t been…through security protocols, where we haven’t seen the manifest, to land on US military bases,” Psaki reportedly said.