S.A. Miller, Washington Times, June 16, 2014
The Obama administration Monday abruptly halted plans to shelter some of the children surging across the border at a defunct college in rural Virginia, as the White House has continued to see its efforts to house the children throughout the country be thwarted by opposition from local officials.
As many as 500 children were to start arriving this week at St. Paul’s College, a recently closed historically black college in Lawrenceville, Virginia. But the Health and Human Services Department’s plans were stymied, at least temporarily, after town and county officials objected to the short notice and complete lack of community input.
“We were stunned,” said Robert F. Pecht III, president of the Lawrenceville Town Council, who learned of the plan Friday evening. “We were told it was a done deal. The lease was signed, and that was it.”
As the feds worked over the weekend preparing the campus for the arrival of the children, whom officials said would be ages 11 to 17, public outrage erupted in the community, which is about 70 miles south of Richmond.
Letters flooded the town council offices, including from nearby residents threatening to boycott the town if the college became a way station for illegal immigrant youths.
Rep. Robert Hurt, the Republican congressman who represents the region, sent a letter to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on Monday morning demanding she halt the project. After the delay was announced, Mr. Hurt said it should be the beginning of a total rethink.
The administration has scrambled to find temporary housing for the children, who are pouring across the border in unprecedented numbers.
Plans to house some of the children at an empty office complex in Baltimore were halted after the city’s Democratic mayor and Maryland’s two Democratic senators objected as soon as the details were announced.
In Virginia, the administration signed a five-month lease with an option to renew for up to three years, all of it before officials caught wind of it, said Bernard L. Jones Sr., chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Supervisors.
He said HHS officials estimated that a steady stream of children would be housed on the campus, each child staying about 30 days until being reunited with a parent.
Jerry Prince, the owner of Prince’s Barber Shop in Lawrenceville, said that he wanted what was best for the children, but he feared the children would bring diseases to his town.
“Even kids carry diseases like smallpox, chickenpox and scabies,” said Mr. Prince, 40.
The fears may not be unfounded.
Immigration officials have said many of the children have never seen a doctor until they are intercepted by agents at the border, and head lice and scabies screenings are part of the initial checks.
After seeing the local opposition to the Lawrenceville site, HHS officials hit pause.
“The project of developing Saint Paul’s College as a site for caring for minors in the Unaccompanied Alien Children program is on hold pending community input,” said Kenneth J. Wolfe, spokesman for HHS’s Administration for Children and Families.
HHS officials will attend a community meeting about the plan Thursday in Lawrenceville.