NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – As Afghan refugees begin to make their way to Holloman Air Force Base, state leaders remain divided on them coming to New Mexico in the first place. While some say they’ll welcome refugees with open arms, others feel the move is rushed and locals need to be better informed about who is coming to the area.
It’s unclear yet if any refugees will remain permanently in New Mexico following health and family screenings. However, Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller says they will be welcomed to the area if they move on from the base.
“We also are grateful for the folks who are making that happen, obviously, in a military capacity and also in a civilian and diplomatic capacity. We want to make sure that there’s a home in Albuquerque for everyone who can get here,” said Keller, during an event Friday afternoon to support the Afghan community. “I’m proud that our city is a refugee resettlement location. It has been now for almost 50 years.”
A senior White House official for the Biden administration said Friday, they’re speaking regularly with state and local officials as refugees begin to enter New Mexico. Some of the state’s congressional members say as they mourn Thursday’s loss of service members and civilians during the attack on Kabul, the clock is ticking to get American citizens and refugees out of the country by next week.
Holloman AFB is in Rep. Yvette Herrell’s district and she says, already, her office has been inundated with calls from residents concerned about thousands of refugees coming to the area. She says there are still more questions than answers that need to be settled before any relocations can be considered.
“It is nice that we have an opportunity to play a role in the humanitarian efforts, but at the same time, we need to be looking at the bigger picture, is everyone being properly vetted, in terms of security,” said Rep. Herrell. “How many people are we talking about, what is the timeframe, what is the rollout to settle either in Albuquerque or other communities throughout New Mexico or the nation.”
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During Friday’s meeting with the Biden administration, officials were not able to say how many people will be coming to the base. However, Herrell says she’s been told they’re preparing for at least 9,000 people, possibly more.
Other state leaders issued statements regarding the announcement from Holloman AFB. Senator Martin Heinrich says:
“New Mexico stands ready to welcome the Afghan refugees who will be temporarily housed at Holloman Air Force Base. We will not turn our backs on the Afghans who helped us over the past twenty years and are counting on us now. I am closely monitoring this situation to ensure Holloman has all the resources necessary to protect the health and safety of evacuees throughout this process.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office also weighed in. The governor’s press secretary, Nora Meyers Sackett, issued the following statement:
“As you know, the governor sent a letter to President Biden attesting to New Mexico’s availability to assist with Afghan refugee transitions. My office was glad to work with the White House press staff to set up today’s background briefing with New Mexico press, and as those senior administration officials said, each refugees’ final destination will be on an entirely case-by-case basis. Numerous federal agencies are tasked with spearheading this effort, and the state is supportive of their mission to safely and efficiently transition these individuals while taking all available public health and safety measures. As they said, this is a quickly evolving situation that is happening in real time, and federal officials will remain the most immediate source of information, but of course if we get additional state-specific information pertaining to the state administration, I’m happy to circle back with you.”
Rep. Melanie Stansbury issued the following statement:
“I am proud that New Mexico and our Service Members are playing a vital role in helping to evacuate Americans and our Afghan Allies from Afghanistan,” said Representative Stansbury. “New Mexico has a rich multicultural heritage and history of welcoming those seeking refuge with open arms. I am grateful we can support those in need of help now. I join the country and the world in mourning the loss of the 13 Service Members and over 170 civilians in yesterday’s attack on Kabul and believe we must honor their memory by fulfilling their mission and helping every one that we can. My office has been assisting with evacuation efforts for weeks and continues to stand ready to provide help and assistance to those in need.”
Lastly, Sen. Ben Ray Luján also issued a statement, saying:
“As the situation in Afghanistan becomes more dire with each day that passes – I’m proud that New Mexico has answered the call to serve. New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base will join the list of installations providing temporary housing, sustainment and support to Afghan evacuees. Those coming to New Mexico have endured a long and difficult journey, and I’m glad our state will serve as a safe refuge. I thank our service members stationed at Holloman Air Force Base and Fort Bliss for assisting this humanitarian crisis and I also thank the troops in Afghanistan who provided safe passage for the evacuees. My office is working tirelessly with the departments of State and Defense to evacuate more of our citizens and Afghan allies. I encourage anyone in need of assistance to please contact my office for help.”