Congresswoman visits Fort Bliss weeks after female soldier assaulted by Afghan refugees
EL PASO, Texas (Tribune News Service) — More than two weeks after a female U.S. soldier was assaulted by male Afghan refugees at Fort Bliss, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R- N.M., toured the Army post on Wednesday.
The reported assault occurred at the Fort Bliss Doña Ana County Range Complex, an area in Herrell’s House district.
“I really am concerned about what’s happening,” Herrell said. “The American people deserve to know that these people being brought to our nation are vetted properly.”
The soldier who was assaulted has returned to work, but Herrell said she isn’t stationed at the same site where the assault took place. Herrell said no one has been identified, arrested or detained yet as the FBI investigation is still ongoing.
Herrell said more security measures had been added to the facility, such as better lighting and additional security cameras. She has asked for more information to be released on how the Afghans are being screened.
In late August, Fort Bliss began receiving Afghans who had worked alongside U.S. military and government staff. U.S. House Rep. Veronica Escobar, D- El Paso, said all refugees who are at Fort Bliss were vetted.
“They had to be vetted in order to work with the government, and they were vetted again before they got on the plane,” Escobar said during an August news conference.
Escobar has a similar tour planned at Fort Bliss on Thursday with members of the Texas Congressional Delegation.
Many Afghan families at Fort Bliss have mixed status: Some refugees might have green cards, while others are awaiting a visa.
Update on Afghan refugee camp conditions at El Paso’s Fort Bliss
About 10,000 Afghan refugees live at the Fort Bliss Doña Ana County Range Complex, Herrell said. More than 500 refugees have left the Army post to rebuild their lives in the U.S.
“As we were told many of the Afghans on base have family or friends throughout the United States,” Herrell said. “So they’ve been able to make contact with those people.”
Herrell said the Army officials are in the process of building a visitor center.
She was joined on the tour by New Mexico lawmakers, state House Rep. Rachel Black, a Republican representing Otero County, and state Sen. Ron Griggs, a Republican representing parts of Doña Ana, Eddy and Otero counties.
Herrell said the trio toured the Doña Ana site to highlight “the humanitarian side of things,” and to tour Holloman Airforce Base because Black and Griggs had never been to the airbase.
Black said they tried speaking with refugees, but the language barrier was difficult.
“It was interesting that (the women) all came out to see us, and the children were all very pleased that we were there,” Black said.
The Army camp where the refugees are being housed was built in the 1960s, initially to house 1,800 soldiers. Since their arrival, the site has expanded to include community centers and soccer fields, as well as religious and medical facilities.
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