A family of Afghan evacuees walks into the ticketing lobby of the El Paso International Airport after departing Fort Bliss’ Doña Ana Complex in New Mexico, Sept. 24, 2021. Fort Bliss is one of the locations in the U.S. hosting Afghan evacuees as part of Operation Allies Welcome. The Department of Defense, through U.S. Northern Command, and in support of the Department of Homeland Security, is providing transportation, temporary housing, medical screening, and general support for at least 50,000 Afghans at suitable facilities, in permanent or temporary structures, as quickly as possible. This initiative provides Afghan personnel essential support at secure locations outside Afghanistan. | U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Jacob Lang, 24th Theater Public Affairs Support Elemen
FORT BLISS – A group of 42 Afghans said goodbye to the New Mexico mountains, a place that has become a familiar sight over the past several weeks as part of Operation Allies Welcome, a multi agency effort resettling Afghan evacuees into the United States.
“Initially the focus was on receiving the guests and getting them input into databases, ” said Leo Olivarez, the Department of Homeland Security section chief for on site operations at Doña Ana Complex.
Olivarez added that the DHS is working to depart Afghan evacuees from Doña Ana Complex, on to new homes in the United States.
Eric Perales, the planning chief for the DHS staff on site, discussed how multiple agencies are working to ensure a smooth process.
“We make sure the population here has the necessary travel documents and meets the travel requirements so they can move on,” said Perales
The identification process consists of facial recognition of all Afghan adults and verifying the necessary documents are complete and present. If an Afghan is unable to be matched in the DHS database, a secondary verification process is in place to confirm their identities.
The day before travel, Afghan evacuees are transported to the transit center where they stay overnight. They receive information on their trip from the airport to their final destination.
Afghan evacuees receive a departure brief verbally in Pashto and Dari, with visual aids such as videos and graphics.
“They’re given a 60-minute pre-departure brief in their own native language,” said Olivarez. “It talks about what’s going to happen to them in the next few days and the customs and norms they’re going to be experiencing once they leave and move on to their final destination.”
The morning of departure the identities of all Afghan adults are confirmed one last time before they secure their bags and load into a charter bus headed for the El Paso International Airport.
Olivares has seen first-hand the excitement of the evacuees throughout their time at Doña Ana and how it all culminates with successful out-processing.
As Afghan evacuees step off the bus at the airport, laughter can be heard as families rapidly talk to each other. With their bags in hand, they walk into the airport, and onto the first step into their life in the U.S.
“I think every one of the individuals in the group is excited to have gotten to this point,” said Olivarez.