Migrant advocates to educate Afghan refugees at Fort Bliss on legal rights


El Paso's Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services officials hope the talks will help refugees make good decisions on immigration cases

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – A migrant advocacy group wants to provide free legal orientation to thousands of Afghan refugees temporarily staying in Fort Bliss.

“What we’re trying to do is start providing ‘Know your Rights’ presentations so they know what to expect, what future options there are for them in terms of their immigration case,” said Melissa M. Lopez, executive director of Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services in El Paso.

The organization is working with some of its national partners to make the arrangements, and some of its officers already have had access to the post’s Doña Ana Range across the state line in New Mexico where some 4,300 evacuees are staying.

“We’ve been in contact only with a handful of them right now. Standing up a facility for (up to) 10,000 people has been somewhat chaotic in terms of getting everyone situated,” Lopez said. “The most important thing is to make sure evacuees have a safe place to stay and sleep and are comfortable. That’s been the priority so far.”

She said getting to the Afghans “is taking a little time” because Fort Bliss officials are prioritizing basic needs. “We’re working through the logistical issues of trying to provide these presentations, where and what facility within the camp can be used.”

DMRS officials don’t know how many of the refugees will be staying in the El Paso area permanently but say the city has the social services infrastructure to provide for their immediate needs, if necessary. Right now, the Department of Defense is providing housing, food, medical and other services at the Doña Ana Range camp.

The Armed Services YMCA is facilitating donations to the refugees since people cannot directly hand them over to them. Lopez said the ASYMCA as well as DMRS will be using social media to inform the public what items are specifically needed.

“Our deputy director has been out there […] the few people she’s interacted with seem to be in a really good place in terms of trying to think through their options, trying to decide their next steps, and that’s what we expected,” she said. “We expect that hopefully their basic needs are being taken care of so they can focus on where they want to go, where they want to live, etc.”

DMRS is also considering volunteering their services at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, where a planeload of refugees just arrived this week.

A C-130J transport flew the first Afghans to Holloman from Philadelphia on Tuesday, base officials said Wednesday in a statement that did not specify how many refugees had arrived at the base in support of Operation Allies Welcome.

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