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El Paso Times: US Rep. Veronica Escobar leads Texas congressional delegation tour of Afghan refugee site

By Anthony Jackson

Texas lawmakers from the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday toured the site on Fort Bliss where Afghan refugees are being housed.

U.S. Reps. Veronica Escobar, D-El Paso; Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston; and Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, toured the Fort Bliss Doña Ana County Range Complex, dubbed Doña Ana Village, where nearly 10,000 Afghan refugees are housed. 

Their visit came more than two weeks after a female soldier was assaulted by male Afghan refugees and a day after U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M., toured the Army post

Escobar said she and the other representatives were able to speak directly to the Afghan refugees. 

The only complaint by the refugees, Garcia said, was about some of the food being served, like mashed potatoes and scrambled eggs.

"They've switched to boiled eggs," Garcia said. "They're getting all the food approved by some Islamic authority that says, 'Yes that's the food that's OK to serve.' "

Garcia said Afghan refugees have access to health care, COVID-19 vaccines and vaccines for other diseases that they might not have gotten while living in Afghanistan. 

The Army camp was built in the 1960s, but has expanded to include community centers and soccer fields, as well as religious and medical facilities.

"We visited the child facilities where there's access to toys and games, and kids are playing on the soccer fields," Escobar said. "Every Thursday night, the First Armored Division Band plays a concert for our guests."

During Thursday afternoon's news conference, Escobar highlighted the site's evolution from having around 1,000 refugees on Aug. 25 to nearly 10,000 now.

"The transition away from the emergency response to the more quality of life response is ongoing, but I see a tremendous difference," Escobar said.

Escobar said she expects the refugee site to close in the spring once resettlement operations are complete. 

"We have an obligation as Americans to open up our arms," Escobar said. "We are a nation of immigrants. Every single one of us, unless you're Native American, is a descendant of immigrants."

Veronica Escobar: I have tremendous faith in the vetting process

Thursday's news conference was a change of tone compared to Herrell's, which was held a day before.

Herrell said the assault on a Fort Bliss soldier was a result of not thorough enough vetting and a lack of accountability and transparency from the Biden administration.

Escobar said statements like that are misinformation and irresponsible rhetoric.

"I am told repeatedly by our military leaders, both on base and in Washington, D.C., that they have absolute, full faith in the vetting process," Escobar said. "I have tremendous faith in in the vetting process, and I don't feel any concern about that."

No new updates on the investigation into the assault were given.

Escobar said she wasn't sure if the other refugees knew about the incident. 

"This absolutely was an unfortunate incident," Escobar said. "I have faith that the investigation will yield results." 

The investigation is being handled by the FBI, but there have been few details to emerge from the case. 

Garcia said of the nearly 10,000 refugees living at the site, this has been the only reported incident of refugees assaulting a soldier. 

"There's 10,000 people. It's like a city, and there's only been one incident," Garcia said.

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