Scut­tled im­mi­grant shel­ter site says HHS, neigh­bors are big­ots

Com­plaints cite fair hous­ing law

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY STEPHEN DI­NAN AND S.A. MILLER

Com­mu­nity out­rage forced the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to nix its plans to house il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren at a de­funct col­lege in ru­ral Vir­ginia, but the school fought back this month with dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints ac­cus­ing both the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and its own neigh­bors of big­otry.

St. Paul’s Col­lege and non­profit Hous­ing Op­por­tu­ni­ties Made Equal (HOME) of Vir­ginia say lo­cal of­fi­cials in Lawrenceville, Vir­ginia, and sur­round­ing Brunswick County stirred up racial an­i­mos­ity against the chil­dren. In a sep­a­rate com­plaint, they ac­cused the fed­eral Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Depart­ment of cav­ing to pres­sure and can­cel­ing a lease, also violating anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion rules.

“No one should block some­one’s hous­ing op­por­tu­nity based on race or na­tional ori­gin,” said He­len O’Beirne Hardi­man, the fair hous­ing di­rec­tor for HOME. “It’s un­fair, and it’s com­pletely il­le­gal for gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to step into a pri­vate deal and say we don’t want Cen­tral Amer­i­can chil­dren com­ing to this com­mu­nity.”

She and St. Paul’s lodged a com­plaint with the Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment Depart­ment, tar­get­ing the lo­cal of­fi­cials, and filed another dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaint with HHS’s own of­fice for civil rights, ar­gu­ing the depart­ment broke the law by can­cel­ing the deal.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials bris­tled at the no­tion they did any­thing wrong, say­ing they merely asked for a com­mu­nity meet­ing so HHS and the col­lege could ex­plain their plans. More than 1,000 peo­ple showed up, and sen­ti­ment ran strongly against hous­ing the chil­dren.

“I don’t have any­thing to hide or run from. I don’t think I did any­thing wrong,” said Brunswick County Sher­iff B.K. Roberts, whom the com­plaints ac­cused of stir­ring op­po­si­tion. “I think the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion clearly says that … I have the op­por­tu­nity for free­dom of speech. I spoke to op­pose. That’s what I did. I still op­pose it.”

He said that his op­po­si­tion to the plan was based on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s “mis­han­dling” of the sit­u­a­tion.

“There were too many ques­tions left unan­swered. There were too many in­con­sis­ten­cies,” said Sher­iff Roberts. “It was just poorly han­dled by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The re­sult was that we had a pub­lic fo­rum … and the gen­eral sen­ti­ment there was op­po­si­tion.”

The surge of chil­dren — more than 66,000 have crossed the bor­der and been de­tained by the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment from Oct. 1, 2013, through Aug. 31 — has strained fed­eral bud­gets and tested lo­cal gov­ern­ments in all sorts of ways, in­clud­ing hav­ing to face com­mu­nity back­lash.

Some of the an­tipa­thy stems from re­ports of com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­eases within the il­le­gal im­mi­grant pop­u­la­tion, but much of the back­lash is a re­ac­tion to the broader il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion de­bate, ac­cord­ing to those on both sides of that fight.

Lawrenceville be­came one of the flash­points for that back­lash.

The pub­lic fo­rum Sher­iff Roberts and other lo­cal com­mu­nity lead­ers called saw more than 1,000 peo­ple show up, with sen­ti­ment over­whelm­ingly op­posed.

“No way do I want to be liv­ing any­where with armed guards and a se­cu­rity fence,” said Donna Lewis, who said she moved with her grand­chil­dren from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to Lawrenceville seek­ing a quiet life.

HHS had planned to send about 500 chil­dren, most of them males age 15 to 17, to the cam­pus, where they would ben­e­fit from St. Paul’s dor­mi­to­ries, cafe­te­ria, class­rooms, gym­na­sium and ath­letic fields.

Col­lege Pres­i­dent Mil­lard “Pete” Stith thought it was a win­win — the feds needed the space, the col­lege needed the money, and the com­mu­nity needed jobs. He alerted both town and county of­fi­cials, whom he said didn’t give him any push­back.

“This is like manna from heaven,” he said. “I’m walk­ing around with my chest stick­ing out, be­cause I’m say­ing me and my part­ners in the county and town are go­ing to be ben­e­fit­ting from this project. Silly me.”

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