EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The United States announced its plan to expand and enhance the temporary housing of Afghan refugees in New Mexico.

KTSM 9 News spoke on background with White House Administration officials with what the community needs to know.

Where are the refugees going?

The Department of Defense is using a number of military bases around the country including Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico to temporarily house applicants to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program and other vulnerable people. 

How many refugees?

Each day, thousands of people are being evacuated from Afghanistan to safety in one of the largest airlifts in world history that is a military and diplomatic operation. Individuals are being flown out of Kabul to third-party countries in Europe and in Asia that have agreed to serve as transit hubs before undergoing robust security processing and then flying to the United States.

What kind of security processing?

That process involves both biometric and biographic security screenings, conducted by U.S. intelligence agents, law enforcement and counterterrorism professionals who are working around the clock to screen the refugees before they’re allowed to be moved to the United States.

What about Americans in Afghanistan?

The first priority are Americans and green card holders. The second category are SIV applicants and their families. 

What about COVID-19 risks?

The U.S. government has undertaken extensive COVID-19 and other public health precautions in close coordination with CDC, HHS and state and local public health officials. Every U.S. citizen, green card holder, and Afghan refugee is tested for COVID upon arrival in the U.S.

Administration officials say they’re in the process of determining how to offer vaccines to the arrivals.

Where do they go once they arrive in the U.S.?

U.S. citizens and green card holders may go to their chosen destinations after being tested for COVID-19 at the airport. Refugees are transferred to military installations for full medical screenings, where they’ll be offered a variety of health care services and support in applying for work authorization before moving to their next destination.

Each arriving family and individual will be connected with the Office of Refugee Resettlement to help begin their new lives in America.

What’s the capacity at facilities like Holloman Air Force Base?

The DoD is figuring out the capacity at these facilities as they build them out.

How long will the refugees be at these facilities?

The goal is to avoid refugees spending an extended amount of time at the facilities, like months.

What about Fort Bliss?

Fort Bliss is one of the four initial sites across the country to be established for this operation. Holloman Air Force Base is now the fifth, but White House Administration officials expect more are forthcoming. 

How many Afghan refugees have been evacuated to Fort Bliss or Holloman Air Force Base?

White House Administration officials say they do not have the precise number, but suspect it would be outdated by the time it was reported because of the rapidity with which evacuation efforts are moving. 

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