Gallagher, Grothman among lawmakers at Fort McCoy tour

Published: Aug. 27, 2021 at 2:12 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 27, 2021 at 5:42 PM CDT
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FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WBAY) - A group of Republican Congressmen who represent Wisconsin toured Fort McCoy where Afghan refugees are being housed following the evacuation from Afghanistan.

According to the five lawmakers, there were 2,000 refugees when they visited but the number could reach 3,000 by the end of the day Friday. The base has room to house 10,000 people.

U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (Green Bay) was among the lawmakers who toured the facility. Gallagher is the ranking member of the House Armed Service Subcommittee on Military Personnel.

Also on the tour: Rep. Glenn Grothman (Fond du Lac), Rep. Bryan Steil (Racine), Rep. Tom Tiffany (Wausau), and Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (Brookfield).

The lawmakers toured facilities and received a briefing on the operations and steps to process the refugees. They said they took a driving tour of the base before being briefs by a variety of people, including individuals from the Army, Homeland Security, and Immigration.

“We were very glad to have a candid exchange and discussion and be able to ask questions about vetting procedures and logistical procedures here, and it was very heartening as we toured the base to see soldiers doing their best to make the Afghans here comfortable,” Gallagher said.

The visit comes one day after the deadly attack on the Kabul airport. The Islamic State Khorasan has claimed responsibility for the attack that killed nearly 200 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members. CLICK HERE for the latest from Afghanistan.

While all the refugees here have undergoing some basic security screenings, none of them have special immigrant visas. That leaves the Republican delegation with a lot of questions about how these refugees are being vetted.

“We have to make sure the bad guys like ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban do not embed people into the refugees and send them here to America, and so I hope a through vetting process is being done by this administration, and we’re going to have a lot of questions about that as we move forward,” Rep. Tiffany said.

“There’s a collective need to make sure those individuals who truly helped the USA -- and there’s countless stories of Afghans who stepped up and helped U.S. forces -- to make sure that they have access and are taken care of but to also make sure we’re vetting through any individual who would have nefarious intent,” said Rep. Steil.

The vast majority of the refugees housed at Fort McCoy have parolee status and can leave at anytime, but the lawmakers said, based on what they saw and heard, the care refugees are receiving will keep them here longer. We’re told one American citizen who came through the base as a refugee has left, as well as an Afghan citizen whose spouse is American.

When asked how long the refugees could be here, Grothman said the estimates were two to four weeks, with the hope of finding organizations and groups to sponsor the refugees and help them settle in their new country.

The congressmen were very complimentary of the work the Army is doing at what they’re calling a reception centers.

“It was very heartening as we toured the base to see the soldiers doing their best to make the Afghans that are here comfortable. We saw some soldiers playing bags with Afghan children and it reminds us just how lucky we are to be American,” Gallagher said.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin told us she plans to visit Fort McCoy next week. “The Hmong who aided us during the Vietnam War, and then became refugees frankly after that conflict come to an end, and they add so much to our communities, so Wisconsin has a special role to play here, too,” Baldwin said.

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