LAWRENCEVILLE, Virginia–Over 1,000angry residents of the small, rural town here gathered atBrunswickHigh School on Thursday and reamed out local, state, and federalgovernment officials for offering the St. Paul’s College buildingas temporary emergency shelter for 500 unaccompanied alienchildren(UACs) coming from Texas. St. Paul’s, a historically blackcollege, shut down five years ago after losing its accreditation.
“Right now we have a town–I can gohome. I can get supper. At 9 o’clock at night I can come back tomyoffice by myself, go in there and do work, come out at 11:30, get inmycar and never worry about being harmed. I can’t do that anymore ify’all come,” said Pam Thomas. “You can’t put them over thereand it’s not a prison anymore. It’s a closed facility.”
Lawrenceville resident Arron Smithsaidfirmly, “The people here don’t want to ask you any questions. Wereally don’t want to hear your selling points. We don’t want tohear your politically correct terms. We talk slow around here. Wegota little twang, but talk direct. Let me say this to you as I looksquare in your eyes. We do not want you here.”
Most of the UACs flooding overthe U.S. southern border are from Central and South America.
The Obama administration organized thecommunity hearing, and representatives from the Department ofHomelandSecurity-as well as Health and Human Services-attempted to quellfears and suspicions about the plan, telling residents that theindividuals who would be housed at St. Paul’s would be medicallyscreened as well as background checked for any prior criminalhistory. Residents weren’t buying it.
“I’m concerned that I already movedmy two children from New York City-Queens-to here, and they havealready been subjected to liquor and drugs in school, and nowyou’retelling me this is a lease property and that we’re going to useourpolice to help this program,” said a woman from Lawrenceville whonoted her own Latin background.
“We can’t control what’s going onin our own town. I’ve lived here less than two years, and my kidshave hardly been subjected to things that they had been subjectedtoin the last ten years in New York. I can be with them 24-7, butwhathappens to everybody else’s children who can’t be here 24-7?”she asked. She continued:
We have to travel 20 minutes atleast to get some kind of community stuff for the kids. We don’thave anything here in this town, but yet you’re going to bring allthese extra problems to us. You said you’re gonna hire extrapeopleto deal with my fellow Latin people that have gone through rape,abuse. And you’re talking about Central American. That has to dowith all the guerrilla and civil wars they have going on andthey’recoming with this type of mentality. Have we not seen what happenedinthe bigger inner cities that have the resources to deal with it?Andblyou’re bringing it to a town that doesn’t have the resources.
“The people we are talking about aremore than an acronym. They are more than a legal definition. Theyarechildren,” Essey Workie, regional director for HHS’sAdministrationfor Children and Families, told the crowd.
Geraldine Woodley scolded thegovernment representatives for selectively paying attention to one
“I find it appalling that there is noSt. Paul College representation here to talk to us…” She went on:
As a resident of Brunswick, my husband is the retired sheriff of16 years in this county and I am a graduate of St. Paul’s College.So I find myself stuck sometimes in conversations from all threeperspectives. It is a great humanitarian effort to try to helpchildren of any nation. We see what’s happening in Africa. We sawwhat happened in Haiti. Where were the houses for the Sudanesechildren and for the Hatian children? I didn’t see that.
Although the UAC’s were scheduled toarrive on Thursday, the plan was put on hold following a severebacklash from the community. In the meantime, the panel ofgovernmentofficials continued to promise that if Lawrenceville residents didnot want the UAC facility in operation, the plan would bescrapped.