In this pop-up episode of She Thinks, Independent Women’s Forum Visiting Fellow Meaghan Mobbs speaks with Rep. Yvette Herrell, who represents New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, on visiting a military base in her district housing Afghan refugees. The pair also discuss the importance of vetting individuals entering the United States.
Born and raised in New Mexico, Rep. Yvette Herrell represents the state’s largest congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of Committee on Natural Resources and Committee on Oversight and Reform. On Natural Resources, Herrell serves on the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee and as Vice Ranking Member of the Energy and Minerals Development Subcommittee. On Oversight, she serves on both the Environment and Government Operations Subcommittees. Herrell is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and Republican Study Committee.
Tune in for this special, pop-up episode of She Thinks:
Hey everyone. It’s Beverly Hallberg. Welcome to a special pop-up episode of She Thinks, your favorite podcast from the Independent Women’s Forum, where we talk with women and sometimes men about the policy issues that impact you and the people you care about most. Enjoy.
Hi there, I’m Meaghan Mobbs, a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum. I’m joined today by a special guest, Representative Yvette Herrell, to discuss the ongoing Afghan refugee situation. Before we hop into what is bound to be an extremely illuminating discussion, let me share just a few high points about Representative Herrell and her career. Yvette Herrell was born and raised in New Mexico and represents the state’s largest congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. She is a member of the Committee on Natural Resources and Committee on Oversight and Reform.
Before she was elected to Congress, Representative Herrell served four terms in the New Mexico House of Representatives, where she helped found the Article V Caucus to restore federalism and curtail growth of the federal government. Prior to entering public service Representative Herrell owned and operated several successful small businesses, including a heavy equipment operating company, an insurance adjusting company, a boarding kennel, and a real estate business. Recently, Representative Herrell wrote an eye-opening piece on Fox News about her visit to Holloman Air Force Base, a base that’s located in her New Mexico district and is currently home to 5,000 Afghan evacuees. So welcome Representative Herrell. It is a pleasure to have you on,
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
Well, thank you so much, and I’m just delighted to be your guest today.
And for those who are listening who haven’t had the education of your super straight-talking piece about what you experienced, can you share a little bit about what you witnessed at Holloman Air Force Base?
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
Yes. Thank you for the question. So for those that don’t realize, Holloman Air Force Base is located right in the community that I actually live in, in the second congressional district. And with the evacuation and everything happening so fast, we learned after the fact that we would be housing up to 5,000 Afghan refugees at Holloman, and we would also see up to 20,000 housed at Fort Bliss, which is the main basis in El Paso, Texas, but where they’re housing refugees is on the Don Yana Range, which is also in the second congressional. Initially, when I tried to go out and visit the base, Holloman Air Force Base, we were told I couldn’t go. Of course, that led to a national story and then we did go on. And I will tell you first and foremost, hats off and I’m so grateful for the men and women in our armed services who truly were able to erect an entire village that would house up to 5,000 people with sleeping quarters, with kitchen, with bath, with all of the things that you would need, all the necessities.
So it’s a Herculean move to have that many people engaged to build the villages, is what they’re calling them, to house that many people. So I’m grateful for that, but what the biggest concern that we had were the vetting processes. Because everything was so rushed, it was really a debacle. I mean, we have 13 gold star families that did not have to be. Everything was happening so great and at such a quick speed without any really planning. So our questions to those at Holloman Air Force Base, and just on a side note, we’ve continued to ask these questions to Millie’s office, to DOD, Department of Homeland Security, we’ve asked them to … Homeland Security, we’ve asked them to the State Department, but what we want to know is the vetting process as a whole and are the American people safe? Because for me, we have two priorities. Number one is to remove every American out of Afghanistan and to protect every American on American soil. And those are the questions that we are still unable to get good answers to.
Wow, that’s such a powerful thing. So you’re asking all these questions, but it sounds like you’re not getting any answers, to your point. So what are they saying? What kind of information are they providing to you about the vetting process that should be occurring and sounds like isn’t occurring?
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
Right. So what we’re being told is … and this is being told on the federal level here in DC, also there on the base, that the refugees are being vetted three different times before they get to American soil. But here’s the thing, by our own admission, by Blinken’s own admission, the vetting process is flawed. And we can see that when we already have seen them be able to identify at least 13 people that were in transit that failed the background checks with a criminal background. And we know they’ve already identified at least two Afghan refugees that made it to American soil.
So what we’re pushing on is what databases does the State Department and the Department of Health, what databases do they have to compare to in terms of what … if we’re just looking at FBI background, if we’re just looking at American background data, then they can only check what we have ourselves put in, but if we’re being honest to the American people, then we need to be looking at regional background data, data from Pakistan and other countries in that region because, as you’ve heard and we all have heard, all of the documents, all the classified data was destroyed. So what are we comparing this to? And that’s the $20,000 question. And I’m not the only member of Congress that continues to push on that, to want to understand how are we vetting these people with real data that helps us understand who they are?
And believe me, we are all in favor of helping our allies, those who help the coalition, but if we don’t do it right on the front end, we’ve got two problems; then there will always be a shadow of doubt cast over the refugees that are going to come to America, be resettled, and assimilate into our nation. There will always be, I think, a cast of doubt if we don’t do it right by the American people. They’ll look differently, I think, at our Afghan allies, but also, we owe it to the American people to ensure their safety because the 9/11 Commission, after all of their investigation, they said, “We did not do a good job of vetting those coming into our country and that is what caused the 9/11 attacks.” And America does not want to see a repeat of that, so we have to get it right the first time.
Absolutely. And what you’re laying out is basically a way to balance both safety and security, while also ensuring that America remains a beacon of freedom. And you spoke about, in your piece, also about how the process has been historically 18 months of processing for those that are coming over, and it’s been condensed into weeks and days in some cases. So I’d just like a little bit of your thoughts on that.
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
Yes, and that’s one thing that we pressed when we were at Holloman Air Force Base and did not get the answers. How do you take … and this was our exact question … how do you take a process that takes 12 to 18 months to go through? And that’s an entire deep dive vetting process to actually give somebody citizenship status in our nation. How are we able to condense that to just a matter of a couple of short weeks, two or three short weeks, when we have people at the Southern border who have been trying to go through that vetting process for 12 to 14 years in some cases. And the State Department were unable to process those applications and get through that vetting process any quicker than that. So it brings to mind the question of, begs the question, how are you doing this and what are you comparing to?
But here’s the thing that I believe is most concerning: the Afghan refugees are not required to stay on the military installations that are housing them. They’re encouraged to stay, but they are not. They’re treated … and this is the word they use … they are treated as a guest, not as illegals coming into our country. So we can only encourage them to stay on our military installations. But here’s what Americans need to know: there are also African refugees coming in that are choosing not to go to any type of military installation where the facilities are located, but to go ahead and go into the interior of the nation. So we have no idea what they’re doing, who they’re going to see. No one’s keeping tabs on anyone.
And when we know that we don’t have a system, a background check system that we can rely on 100% of the time, it just begs the question that we may be putting Americans in harm’s way unnecessarily. And, as a member of Congress and as a person who feels very responsible to the health and safety and the welfare of the American people, we shouldn’t be asking these questions after the fact. We ought to be able to ensure the American people that we did our jobs and we did it right when we brought them to America. Like I said, we all see what a debacle it was leaving Afghanistan and how we now have loss of innocent life, so let’s make sure that we don’t have a repeat of what’s happened in our past because of our haste to get things done and not do it right the first time.
And that’s such a concerning point. The chaos that we saw feels a little bit like that chaos has come to our own home. And that’s a very frightening thing for many people, to see the chaos through the withdrawal, and then to take potentially that chaos here within our own borders. And your point about we’re just encouraging them to stay, there’s no actually kind of codified process. What happens if they don’t stay? If they decide to leave, is there any recourse?
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
You mean if they decide not to stay on the base and just leave the base?
Correct? If they just walk off, what happens?
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
Oh, yes. Nothing, because there is no recourse. And that’s part of the problem. How are we going to see really this entire kind of rush through the process, rush to get people here. We know for a fact that people were running to get on those planes out of the Kabul airport. There was no way all those people were getting vetted. We know that for a fact, and here’s the thing: there is no recourse. We have no idea. There’s no checks and balances. There are no guard rails, so to speak, put into place so that we can understand where people will be. I mean, it’s kind of like what we’re seeing at the Southern border with this catch and release. And then people are basically … it’s suggested they show up at court in a few months or a year from now.
That’s kind of what’s happening. We don’t have track of these people. And again, I’m not saying that everyone that came in from Afghanistan is a bad apple. That is absolutely not what I’m saying. We certainly know we have great allies that work the coalitions and worked with Americans, but we also know, and we can learn from our mistakes, it doesn’t take very many people to disrupt the country and to bring havoc on communities and on our nation. But it’s an interesting thing to think that people now can come right in and have access, direct access to our nation. And I guess what the government’s thinking is they’ll hope that everyone that’s coming in will do the right thing. Well, I don’t think we can trust that anymore. And it’s just so sad, because we’ve been in multiple briefings, not all classified, but even the questions we’ve asked outside of a classified briefing scenario, and this is just information that the government should be able to tell members of Congress, how many Americans are left in Afghanistan? And to date, we are still not with an answer.
We all saw a report that said between 200 and 9000. If you ask today, they will say, “Well, it’s at least a hundred, but they don’t know.” We’ve asked specifically how many special visa holders are here in our country? They will not tell us, or they do not know, which that’s part of the problem. So of the 123,000 plus people that they were able to evacuate out of Afghanistan, the numbers of Americans are very tiny. I’m talking the latest numbers that we saw were less than even 500. I’m sure there’s more than that. I want to hope there is, but even on Holloman, when we asked how many people here are special visa holders? They wouldn’t say. We said, “How many are interpreters?” They wouldn’t say. There’s just not a lot of information being shared with not only members of Congress, but with Americans. And I believe Americans deserve to know what is going on, and there should be way more transparency.
So I’m a former army officer, and one of the things we used to say is that hope is not a course of action. And it feels like our government right now, some of the Biden administration is relying on this idea of hope that this will all work out. And to your point about 9/11, our enemies exploit when there was chaos, when they sense weakness. And I think a lot of that has been laid bare in many ways. And to your point about transparency and us just not knowing how many American citizens are left behind or how many SIV holders we have in the United States, it’s very concerning. And in your piece for Fox, which really I encourage everyone to go read, you kind of lay out this imperative that the American taxpayer dollars are paying for all of this, and it’s important that they understand what that money is going to.
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
That’s right. And I’m glad you brought that up, because right now we’re looking at doing these reconciliation bills and doing this raising the debt ceiling, and all these things in Washington, DC where we’re just spending money like crazy. And I just think that we’ve gone off the deep end in terms of spending, but where I’m going with this is what is this Southern border debacle costing the American taxpayer? What is this Afghan debacle costing the American taxpayer? Because you have to remember, it is our taxpayer dollars that are paying for this temporary housing, which temporary could be anywhere from weeks to over a year. How much is this costing us, to food, to house, to medicate?
Right now … and this is, to me, a reason why the medicine people need to be kept in the loop and there should be more transparency: the trip I was supposed to take to Fort Bliss was canceled because the measles outbreak. That should be a fundamental part of this entire process is checking for infectious diseases, especially when you come to America, where we’ve basically eradicated so many of these childhood diseases, if you will, like the mumps, the measles, Diphtheria, others, but those now are very, very alive and well. And that’s, I think, part of our health and safety to the American public. So I have yet to get to go to a Fort Bliss because of the measles outbreak. And again, these things I believe could be avoided if we would just slow it down. And in fact, traditionally you would see these types of vetting processes done in countries in transit. It would not be done always on American soil and there would be background checks that could be compared in databases from all over the region, used, and utilized.
And we’ve just moved past that. And this idea of hoping, it just signals to me that this administration is unwilling or unable to take on the issues at hand, which would be the Afghan evacuation and what’s happening there, the Southern border, what’s happening there, this budget and this spending that is happening. We are just seeing one crisis after another. And it feels like this administration refuses to either take responsibility or stop and take care of one of these major issues. And let’s start putting some breast on the shoulders of the American people instead of all of this spending and all of the stress. Let’s just get some of this stuff put to bed so that we can somehow believe a little bit in our government. But right now, I think that that’s an impossibility because we are just watching just a giant dumpster fire when it comes to this administration and how they’re handling these issues.
Well, Congresswoman, we are so glad that you are out there asking these questions. I know that you’re not getting any answers right now, but the fact that you’re taking the leadership and standing up and making sure these questions get asked and that you are pursuing answers for the American people. We are so thankful for your leadership and courage. And I know we’re short on time. I just wanted to also touch on one point in your op-ed. Again, everyone should go read it on Fox News, about what you saw regarding kind of the integration or assimilation that was not happening in these villages.
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
Yeah. That’s one thing that I think we’re missing the mark on. And these are all called operation welcome home, operation welcome villages, all this. Okay, that’s great to me, but if we’re really going to be serious about assimilating foreigners that are especially not from this region and are not maybe familiar with all of our Western cultures, there was nothing that would help them to do so. And in fact, I’ll give you an example. We were in one of the multi-purpose buildings and there was a four-star general and some other officers and myself and one of my staffers, and we had some questions we wanted to ask. We were in a building that was huge, and this is one of the makeshift buildings.
There was a little women’s group kind of going on in the middle of the building. We were not disturbing them, but do you know that the elders, the Afghan elders, the men came over and they did not want any man assimilating in the building where they had their women. And we moved out of that building. And where I’m going with this is we’re not doing our coalition, our allies any favors by conforming to their ways if we’re not going to prepare them for what’s in store for them in small-town America, or big-town America. There wasn’t anything in English, there wasn’t anything that would kind of start pushing them into the direction to start understanding or learning our Western culture or our Western ways. And I think that’s a disservice on our end.
And that brings up yet another question that I then asked is if we’re not going to start helping with the transition in terms of Western culture and so forth, what happens then? Because we know of other areas throughout the nation where there are communities of Afghans that are … in fact, in Texas, there were even lawsuits filed because they wanted the Sharia law and everything to usurp American law or the Texas constitution, the American constitution. So this is very concerning to me, someone who wants to protect our country, protect our sovereignty, our constitution. So these are things that are interesting, but we’re not starting to at least help these refugees understand our culture and get a better handle on it so when they do and are transferred into our interior or to other states, they can understand our way of life.
I worry that we’re going to change and try to conform to theirs. And I think that’s a mistake. So these are more questions obviously than answers, but there’s just … I feel like we just did this way too fast without taking the time to think through how we were going to integrate a new culture for the Afghanistan’s to understand. How are we going to integrate the Western culture, where they understand it and can be productive parts of our society? And most of them probably will be, but it just feels very rushed and not enough information out there for everyone.
Absolutely. And you said it, so many questions, so few answers. And for an administration that reports to a plan for every contingency, it seems like there’s a lot of thoughtlessness that is happening. So again, I want to commend you on your courage for asking the questions and your leadership and doing all of this. And thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today. For those who are listening, we hope you take away something new from today’s conversation. And if you enjoyed this episode of She Thinks or like the podcast in general, we’d love if you could take a moment to leave us a rating or review on iTunes. This helps make sure our message reaches as many Americans as possible. Share this episode and let your friends know they can find more She Thinks episodes on their favorite podcast app. And from all of us here, if you’re in control, I think, you think, she thinks. Thanks again, Congresswoman.
Rep. Yvette Herrell:
Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it very much.