Amid national and local efforts to help Afghan refugees arriving in Wisconsin’s Fort McCoy military base, some Wisconsin Republicans are pushing back, citing concerns about the speed at which the refugees are being processed.
According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Fort McCoy is temporarily housing more than 8,000 Afghan refugees while they wait to be resettled across the nation. In an open letter, Gov. Tony Evers expressed support for the refugees arriving at Fort McCoy.
“We have been in contact with federal partners about resettlement efforts for Afghan people who are seeking refuge at Fort McCoy,” Evers said. “As we learn more information, Wisconsin is ready to assist these efforts and help these individuals who served our country and are now seeking refuge.”
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In response, Sen. Patrick Testin, R-Stevens Point, claimed in an open letter the state does not have enough information about the refugees — which he said could be unsafe for Wisconsin residents. Testin said though resettling the refugees should not be a political issue, he is concerned the refugees coming to America will not be properly identified or screened by the federal government.
U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wausau, expressed similar concerns in a press release.
“The White House should abandon this dangerous, ready-fire-aim plan and mitigate risk by transporting Afghans to safe third countries for vetting before bringing thousands of unknown people into Wisconsin or other U.S. states,” Tiffany said.
Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Mason, said she hopes in the long term, Afghans who do settle in Wisconsin will become valued members of the communities they choose to call home.
Bewley said she knows Evers and his administration are working with the federal government to do what they can to help Afghan refugees accomplish this.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway and Common Council Leadership of Madison announced on the city of Madison website they are committed to treating refugees with dignity, care and respect. Additionally, many Madison citizens have expressed interest in helping Afghans who are seeking refuge in Wisconsin, according to the website.
Many local and national organizations such as Team Rubicon, Open Doors for Refugees and Jewish Social Services of Madison are working to ensure the Afghan refugees coming to Fort McCoy receive the resources they need.
According to PBS Wisconsin, these local organizations help place the Afghans hosted in Fort McCoy in communities across the country, meaning it’s not guaranteed these refugees will permanently be placed in Wisconsin.
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Currently, the Red Cross is providing mental and physical health services to the refugees at Fort McCoy, according to the Red Cross website. Local Wisconsin organizations are coordinating to provide support to Afghan refugees as they come to the United States, according to the Wisconsin Council of Churches.
On the national level, Director of Defense Intelligence for the Department of Defense Garry Reid said in a statement to the press the DOD has been helping Afghan refugees resettle in the U.S. with the help of non-governmental organizations.
Team Rubicon, an international NGO dedicated to providing disaster relief, is one of the organizations coordinating with the DOD to assist relocating Afghan families into communities across the country.
Team Rubicon Sr. Associate of Operations John Stuhlmacher said many refugees arriving from overseas have few resources. Stuhlmacher said donating hygiene products, furniture, clothing and household items can help a new family arriving in the U.S.
Fundraising money for these items — or just providing a sense of financial security to these families — is a generous way to welcome these families, Stuhlmacher said.
But the work doesn’t end at welcoming the refugees, Stuhlmacher said.
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“These Afghan evacuees are new Americans,” Stuhlmacher said. “They’re starting their life over here in the United States with just the clothes on their backs. They’re going to need our support for a very long time so that they aren’t cut out of society, but rather welcomed into American society.”
According to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families website, there are plenty of ways Wisconsinites can help refugees resettle. Community members can donate supplies, volunteer, fundraise and advocate for the refugees, according to the website.
Furthermore, there are many refugee resettlement agencies, such as Team Rubicon and Catholic Services of La Crosse, that community members can volunteer at or donate to, according to the website.
“What we’re really focusing on right now is ensuring that the time they spend here in Wisconsin — no matter where they end up settling permanently — is one that they can look back on as a fond memory, not a negative memory,” Stuhlmacher said.