Floodlights bathe the nighttime, arid landscape down Highway 213 which leads to the Ft Bliss Doña Ana Complex located in Chaparral, New Mexico. It is a distinctly surreal Hollywood effect. Jutting into Chaparral — Doña Ana County — is the Ft Bliss Doña Ana Complex. Under the jurisdiction of the US Army it is here where beginning in late August, that the Departments of State and Defense launched Operation Allies Refuge placing roughly 9,700 Afghan refugees. All told, most estimates have the total number of Afghan refugees evacuated to the US to be around 65,000, depending what source you believe, located at 8 regional facilities throughout the US. Doña Ana County New Mexico is probably the last place anyone would think that would become a thorn in President Biden’s side with respect to his evacuation of Afghanistan. Located in the southern part of the state, Doña Ana County has roughly a quarter of a million people and is predominately a Democrat leaning jurisdiction. Its southern border is the Mexico and the New Mexico – Texas state line. By way of comparison, Ft Bliss is a large, sprawling military base comprising over one million acres in two different states — Texas and New Mexico.
Normally, Foreclosurepedia doesn’t dabble much in political theater. We are fairly fine tuned with respect to covering the Mortgage Field Services Industry. With that said, this is one of the rare occasions in that the Industry and politics bisect.
For the past several days, Foreclosurepedia began receiving information with respect to Afghan refugees whom had begun leaving the base unescorted and undocumented. In fact, on 22 October 2021, it triggered the keen interest of the Doña Ana Sheriff’s department based, in part, because according to reports refugees had begun to intersect private property. Calls to property owners were made by the Sheriff’s department about the situation. It piqued our curiosity because one would think that the Departments of Defense and State would keep pretty close tabs on foreign nationals whom are newly arrived from a war torn nation. Apparently, someone missed the memo. In fact, at least according to local reports and the Doña Ana Sheriff’s department, the only thing restricting the movement of the Afghan refugees is simply their own will not to leave.
I have a place in my heart for these people. The reality is that the United States created its own modern Vietnam in Afghanistan. And for our brave men and women whom died and were horrifically injured, the reality is that the US has a support network for them. Not so for the Afghan refugees. Violence, death, and destruction were ever as much a part of daily life as the struggle to find food, clothing, and shelter on a daily basis. Moreover, though, the American public, just like in Vietnam, were simply able to view the war from the comfort of their armchairs — the violence could be turned off as easily as clicking the remote. This was not an option for the Afghan refugees.
It is to these points that a harsh reality needs to be addressed. Day in and day out the men and women of the Mortgage Field Services Industry are asked to work in a dangerous setting. Whether it be COVID, a disgruntled homeowner, or gangs and the homeless whom set up shop in the foreclosures we service, the reality is it is already dangerous enough. To that point, when our Field Service Technicians and Inspectors encounter trespassers, many simply leave when we arrive. The reason for this is Americans — for the most part — realize that we live by a code of conduct wherein there is law and order; wherein there is crime and punishment; and wherein there is always another vacant home up the street to find shelter from the wind. The mindset of traumatized refugees from war torn countries like Afghanistan is markedly different.
As a highly vulnerable population, refugees in particular have often been exposed to traumatic events such as torture, rape, murder and even genocide in their home countries . In addition to war-related violent events experienced in their country of origin, refugees are exposed to danger and potentially traumatic events during the course of their flight. Therefore, when they arrive at camps or host countries, many already suffer from psychological and physical impairment. These potentially traumatic events and impaired quality of life are associated with different types of psychological disorders prevalent among refugees In most epidemiological surveys and studies on psychopathology of war survivors, PTSD and depression are among the most prevalent mental health issues.
It would be consistent to say that Field Service Technicians and Inspectors are at a grave disadvantage should they have to begin encountering a refugee population during the course of their duties. Currently, PropStream lists 940 vacant homes in Doña Ana County all of which are in the county seat of Las Cruces. For the county as a whole, 73 are in pre-foreclosure and 119 are bank owned. A handful of those homes are within walking distance from the Ft Bliss Doña Ana military facility in Chaparral currently housing the Afghan refugees — 3 are in pre-foreclosure and 5 which are bank owned. Candidly speaking, Chaparral to Las Cruces is simply an hour and a half bus ride away. El Paso, a metro area encompassing more than 253 square miles, is a day’s hike by foot. There are 2389 vacant properties in El Paso with 100 homes in pre-foreclosure and 278 bank owned homes. Adding fuel to the fire is the simple and salient point that many communities simply do not have the guidance or resources to deal with undocumented refugees. As opposed to illegal immigrants whom originate from the Southern Border with Mexico, these refugees are actually legal to be here provided they have received their Special Immigration Visa (SIV).
So, what is being done to ensure the safety of not only Doña Ana County residents, but those tasked with servicing foreclosures? It’s a complicated question. First, Reuters has reported more than 300 have walked off the Ft Bliss Doña Ana Complex. The Doña Ana Sheriff’s department confirms as much sans the number. It is frustrating, to say the least and there is a sense that the Biden Administration has abandoned their state colleagues. Fact of the matter is that law enforcement are not allowed to detain Afghan refugees for simply leaving the base. And it becomes even more difficult for law enforcement to assess the encounters with Afghan refugees as they are not in the US criminal databases such as the NCIC. The Associated Press ran a story which shows the true epitome of irony,
But even so, reporters, including those with The Associated Press, were not allowed to talk with any evacuees or spend more than a few minutes in areas where they were gathered, with military officials citing “privacy concerns.”
So, on the one hand, the federal government will do everything in its power to prevent access and protect the privacy of the Afghan refugees and on the other hand they seem to care less whether or not they wander around and invade the privacy of American citizens. Even more troubling, though, is that while the Biden Administration has launched a public and private campaign demanding that all US government employees, contractors and everyone working with private companies of over 100 employees must receive the COVID vaccination, all that is required of the Afghan refugees is a simple test. It is a hard pill to swallow when taken in light of the fact that those whom wander away from the base may have not even complet[ed] health protocols mandated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No matter how the situation at Ft Bliss ultimately unfolds, there are several stark issues which present. First, the federal government has done a horrible job in liaising with their state partners at all levels. Second, regardless of who rubber stamped the Afghan refugees vetting process, allowing them to randomly leave without any type of orientation with respect to their new nation will ultimately invite cultural differences which could escalate rapidly to violence. And finally tying the hands of law enforcement attempting to protect their community while allowing Afghan refugees to run loose unchecked ultimately invites disaster.
Foreclosurepedia spoke with Homeland Security whom advised us that their mission was to liaise and support state and local law enforcement with respect to the Afghan refugees. During the call it was noted that each and every tool available to law enforcement with respect to American citizens was also an option, for state and local law enforcement, with respect to the Afghan refugees. During the call, Foreclosurepedia also had the opportunity to convey the concerns about the need to pro-actively address communication to both Field Service Technicians and Inspectors even though, to date, no known Afghan refugee has been identified occupying distressed assets.
It is a fine line to walk. In a political climate where the racial profiling card is played at every juncture, the ability to affirmatively state that skin color, language, and types of clothing are even characteristics is frowned upon. And sadly we would not even be having this conversation had the Biden Administration placed more emphasis on an effective policy of transition.
I had no sense that either the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s department nor Homeland Security were slacking in their duties. Honestly, I empathized with them as both are bound by a Policy dictated from the top down and without any meaningful guideposts. The reality is that the US government has established a clear course to transition the Afghan refugees into American society; however, failed to establish any meaningful penalties for refusing to follow it. In fairness, not all Afghan refugees whom have left had nowhere to go. For those whom didn’t have proper arrangements, perhaps they would like to return to Afghanistan, for example? Brutal question? Damn right. Being a US citizen is a privilege for those not born here no matter the sacrifice they have made. So, waiting for placement in housing, to me, is not a lot to request especially when tens of millions of US citizens are homeless — including many whom are veterans — at any one point-in-time.
It is a lose lose situation, though, especially for community of Chaparral and Doña Ana County. Chaparral itself is small, under financed and sitting on the edge of a refugee camp which nearly outnumbers its entire population. And with the Doña Ana County unemployment rate hovering around 6.2% the last thing it needs are yet more bodies to take care of without federal assistance. It is a page out of the age old playbook the US government rolls out — unfunded mandates. And the potential onslaught couldn’t come at a worse time in light of the economic damage COVID has wrought. Perhaps it will all work out; perhaps this first in history experiment in importing foreign nationals to a democratic setting will spawn a new generation of innovation and appreciation to be exported at some yet to be set date. What is certain is that the Doña Ana County Sheriff’s department is on the front lines protecting its citizens and only time will tell if this, alone, will be enough to declare Operation Allies Refuge a success.