The Pentagon on Sunday announced it has approved two requests to temporarily relocate more than 20,000 U.S.-allied Afghan refugees to various parts of the United States in the coming weeks, including Wisconsin and Texas.
Both assistance requests include temporary housing, protection, and sustainment in the U.S. for up to 22,000 “Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants, their families, and other at-risk individuals,” according to Lt. Col Chris Mitchell, spokesman for the Defense Department. To be eligible for the SIV program, Afghans must be referred by U.S. officials who can confirm that they assisted U.S. troops during the 20-year Afghanistan war.
The second request includes “protection, air transportation, and processing” of up to 30,000 at-risk individuals residing in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, including U.S. Embassy personnel and other American citizens.
U.S. forces are reportedly working with Turkish troops to secure the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul to ensure that American citizens and U.S.-allied Afghans are safely evacuated.
“We remain vigilant. I want to reinforce that we are focused on the present mission to facilitate the safe evacuation of U.S. citizens, [special immigrant visa personnel] and Afghans at risk — to get these personnel out of Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible,” Army Maj. Gen. William D. “Hank” Taylor, the Joint Staff’s deputy director, stated.
Although housing locations are not yet finalized for at-risk Afghans and SIV applicants, strategic teams have confirmed Fort McCoy, Wisconsin will temporarily house thousands of refugees. The Refugee Services of Texas confirmed they will be housing several hundred Afghans in the cities of Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Fort Worth.
Officials are also considering allowing thousands to temporarily stay in Fort Bliss, located in El Paso, Texas, which has been at the center of multiple controversies regarding their ostensible mistreatment of migrants as rates of illegal immigration increase at the southern border.
One report alleges that at Fort Bliss, migrant children were fed raw meat and expired food, and forced to sleep in tents outdoors with insufficient ventilation.
Governors from several states, including Arizona, have indicated their support of housing Afghan SIVs who aided troops during the war.
Gov. Doug Ducey, R-Ariz., said on Thursday he “wholeheartedly welcomes Afghans who served alongside America’s military forces and are now fleeing the Taliban regime.”
Most SIV applicants are individuals who have aided the United States government with additional intel, security, and strategic forces for the duration of the U.S. military’s involvement in Afghanistan. Many SIVs put the safety of themselves and their loved ones at risk to help advance America’s mission in fighting terrorism in that region, especially after the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Decisions regarding the Afghan refugees come amid a rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to gain control, placing millions of vulnerable Afghan residents in danger – especially Christians and women.
Additional U.S. troops are reportedly expected to aid in the transitional vetting process as refugees are brought into the United States this week.