EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The new normal is introducing the Borderland to a new population of Afghan refugees being housed at area military installations like Fort Bliss and Holloman Air Force Base.
The arrival of the Afghan refugees has raised many questions regarding the vetting processes, while disinformation is going viral on social media that further fuels misconceptions over whether the refugees are terrorists and the Biden Administration’s level of care and expertise regarding the dire situation.
KTSM 9 News spoke one-on-one with David Brignac, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, who said the refugee crisis is very personal to him. Brignac was instrumental in helping his former Afghan interpreter go through the years-long process of being approved for a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV).
“Unfortunately, he still has family members that are there who weren’t able to make it out,” said Brignac. “And that’s kind of been a sticking point. We still have a lot of people there who worked indirectly with the U.S.”
Brignac said his interpreter’s family is living about 2.5 miles from the airport in Kabul, where they’ve had run-ins with the Taliban, who are reportedly checking documentation for U.S. affiliation.
“It’s really hard to tell how that’s going to go,” said Brignac, noting that the U.S. has seemingly negotiated safe passage for Afghan refugees but that the deal could be undone at any moment with the Taliban having information and locations of Afghans who’ve helped the U.S.
“There may be some that are allowed out, but the Taliban has those names now,” he said.
Communities such as El Paso are now making efforts to welcome the Afghan refugees while also trying to be culturally sensitive to the massive transition they are experiencing.
“They just want to be treated like everybody else,” said Brignac.
Concerns over Afghan refugees entering the country — specifically whether terrorists were on board the planes evacuating from Kabul — have contributed to ongoing bias and xenophobia related to Muslims.
“Texas is a very diverse state but there’s also a lot of people in Texas who are not tolerant,” said Brignac. “Texas is a hotbed for extremism, and that is a fear that I have.”
Brignac said that domestic terrorists pose a much more real threat than Afghan refugees.
“One thing that people don’t understand is the most recent cases of terrorism we’ve had are U.S.-born citizens,” he said. “These are not people who came here on Special Immigrant Visas and then became a terrorist, but that’s some of the reality that’s portrayed in some of the media.”
In addition to Islamophobia, misinformation about the Biden Administration’s level of support has added deep insult to injury.
Last Saturday, for example, claims circulated on social media that Biden blew off meeting with the families of the 13 fallen U.S. service members killed in an ISIS-K suicide bombing last Wednesday near the airport in Kabul.
The problem, however, was that the ceremony with Biden and the families of the fallen was not scheduled until Sunday, meaning President Biden was being criticized for disrespecting service members and their families by not showing up to an event that had yet to occur.
“There’s unfortunately purposeful misinformation being put out there and it works,” Brignac said.
He is concerned for the upcoming Congressional elections considering the potency of misinformation campaigns that are duping voters into believing things that are inaccurate.
“It works very well here in Texas,” Brignac said.