Democrats ‘comfortable with extreme vetting process’ for refugees after Fort McCoy tour

FORT MCCOY, Wis. – Democratic lawmakers toured Fort McCoy Tuesday afternoon, giving more information on the status of the thousands of Afghan refugees housed there and what comes next.

Fort McCoy’s Facebook page shared photos of a refugee child getting a new coloring book and soldiers playing a makeshift game of volleyball with children as they get used to a temporary home. Donations are arriving, as well.

“Gratitude has been expressed over and over and over again, and so I think we can take that to heart,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

After taking over the operation, the Department of Homeland Security isn’t releasing exact numbers of refugees. As of last week there were more than 8,000 refugees staying at Fort McCoy, which has a capacity of 13,000.

“We have to do this and do it well,” said Rep. Ron Kind. “Otherwise, we will be hard-pressed in the future to find any friend or any ally who’s going to be willing to stand with us at a time of need.”

The lawmakers said it’s time to stand with the refugees.

RELATED: Donations for refugees begin arriving at Fort McCoy — how you can help with just a few clicks

“You will be hard-pressed to find any service member who served in Afghanistan who does not believe that what we’re doing here at Fort McCoy isn’t the right thing to do,” Kind said. “It’s the moral thing to do.”

Officials said one person tested positive for measles and was quarantined, and “very few” had tested positive for COVID-19. Refugees are getting vaccinated for diseases such as measles, and only one refused the COVID-19 shot.

“I wish we had anything like that in our country right now,” Rep. Mark Pocan said.

Democrats praised the vetting process, something republicans have questioned on their tours of the facility in recent weeks.

“People are not coming in here on special immigrant visas. They may be in the process, but they’re not coming in here on SIVs at this point,” Rep. Tom Tiffany said after a tour in late August.

“I think we saw what makes our country so great. We saw our troops here providing comfort and aid to individuals who escaped from Afghanistan,” Rep. Bryan Steil said after the same tour. “I still have very significant questions that I’ll be following up with the Biden administration on regarding the vetting process of individuals who have exited Kabul.”

Democrats pushed back against such concerns Tuesday.

“There are no 100% guarantees with any of this, but I am comfortable with the extreme vetting process that we were briefed on today,” Kind said. “The multi-layer, the biometric, all the background checks.”

Baldwin said there have been no red flags raised so far.

“Any insinuation by my Republican colleagues that these refugees are un-vetted are false,” Baldwin said. “We should not be distracted by those bad-faith claims, and instead need to focus our energy on ensuring personnel at Fort McCoy have everything they need to do their jobs and the refugees in our care have what they need to live comfortably and to be reintegrated.”

Finding a more permanent home for refugees is the next step. Pocan said relocation could begin as early as the end of this weekend and ramp up over the coming weeks. The priority is to house refugees with any family currently in the country.