Fort McCoy to house refugees still finishing immigration paperwork

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- The Pentagon approved a plan to house thousands of Afghans at Fort McCoy who still need time to complete their immigration paperwork.

That's raised concerns among Republican members of Wisconsin's Congressional delegation.

The Pentagon said Fort McCoy and two others could house up to 22,000 Afghans who are still trying to complete their special immigrant visas.

A Milwaukee immigration attorney said bringing people to the US before their paperwork is approved is unusual.

"What we can't allow is anybody to grab onto an airplane and come in to the United States without vetting, that cannot be allowed," said Congressman Bryan Steil (R-1st District).

Steil said the administration's Afghanistan evacuation has been a disaster. He said a special forces captain called his office asking for help getting 40 Afghans out.

"The fact that individuals are being left to call individual members of Congress speaks volumes about the crisis we're seeing play out in Afghanistan," said Steil.

The State Department said thousands have been flown to safety.

"Twelve C-17s departed within the last 24 hours with more than 2,000 passengers who've arrived at safe havens," said State Department Spokesperson Ned Price.

But Milwaukee Immigration Attorney Teddy Chadwick said Afghanistan's collapse could put thousands of Afghan visa applications in limbo.

Applicants need to provide security records and other documents, which may be hard to come by in a country in crisis. Adding to the pressure, Chadwick said the U.S. immigration system is already close to broken.

"The fact that they can't do simple processes like renew work permits in a timely manner does not give me faith that they're going to be able to handle a very complex and complicated issue," said Chadwick.

He said flying Afghans into the U.S. before their paperwork is complete is unique. He said usually the government forces people to wait out the process. But he hopes the U.S. can make this evacuation work.

"I love America, I think it's the greatest country in the world and I love it so much, I think everyone should be a part of it," said Chadwick.

Typically refugees brought to Wisconsin have their immigration paperwork completed before they arrive.

What happens to the people who wind up at Ft. McCoy, and how the state and nonprofits can help them, remains to be seen.

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