Townspeople and local elected officials have upended a furtive plan by the Department of Health and Human Services to create a temporary halfway house for hundreds of illegal immigrant minors in rural Virginia, The Washington Times
Federal officials signed a five-month lease to transform the defunct St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville into a shelter for some 500 children and teenagers from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador awaiting reunification with relatives.
News of the discussions between federal officials and Saint Paul's management broke early Friday morning, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
"We were stunned," said Robert Pecht, president of the Lawrenceville Town Council after hearing about the plan. "We were told it was a done deal. The lease was signed and that was it," the Times reported.
Local residents were up in arms.
The area's Republican congressman Robert Hurt contacted HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell on Monday morning to insist that the plan be scrapped.
"If the HHS plan is indeed good for the people of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County, then they should begin with a transparent and open process that includes the community and the local elected officials every step of the way and ensures compliance with all local, state and federal laws – including the local zoning ordinances of the town of Lawrenceville."
Most residents were concerned about safety, and whether the migrant children would bring disease to their community, smallpox, scabies and chicken pox, according to the Times-Dispatch report. Many of the children have had little or no medical care and have not been inoculated for childhood diseases.
In response to the intense local opposition HHS officials reversed themselves.
"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 Wolfe, an HHS spokesman.
The administration has encountered problems in finding shelter for the tens of thousands of children streaming illegally across the border. In Baltimore, Democratic elected officials blocked plans to convert a vacant office complex into a shelter, the Times reported.
Meanwhile, African American activist Umar Johnson
, is in negotiations to purchase the property in order to set up a boys school.
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