This past week, the people of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County endured a tumultuous encounter with the federal government. It began with a June 12 newspaper article indicating that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was planning to convert the recently-closed campus of Saint Paul’s College into a detention center for 500 juvenile illegal immigrants and bring those juveniles to the campus in a week’s time. They made these plans without informing community leaders or giving the citizens any opportunity whatsoever to engage, ask questions, or express concerns about the potential public safety and public health ramifications of such a plan.
This approach was ill-advised, as local governments bear tremendous responsibility to provide police, fire, rescue, and health services – services that would be dramatically impacted by the establishment of such a facility. The local elected leaders and the community conveyed their significant concerns with this plan to me, and on June 16, I asked HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to halt these plans, allow local leaders to evaluate how the plans would impact local services, and provide the citizens an opportunity to make their voices heard. Thankfully, HHS paused its process at that point, allowing the community a chance to ask important questions.
After HHS spent a few days informing the public about its plans, a public meeting took place on June 19 at which a thousand concerned citizens came forward to share their views. The overwhelming majority of those in attendance remained opposed to the idea, finding the public health and safety risks far too great. They were also clearly upset by the manner in which the federal government tried to force this plan upon the community. It was apparent that the community was not satisfied with what HHS had to say, and that night, I called on Secretary Burwell to withdraw the plan.
Thankfully, HHS made the right decision, followed the will of the people, and withdrew the plan. The people of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County were relieved, and I commend the citizens and their officials for their efforts to engage and lead throughout a difficult week. However, it must be said that the manner in which HHS attempted to impose its plan on the community without any meaningful input is a painful reminder of just how disconnected Washington has become from the people it is supposed to represent — a Washington that always seems to be wiser and know better than its local elected leaders and its citizens.
This week also demonstrated the tremendous frustration that the people of the Fifth District have with our nation’s immigration policy. What we are seeing on our southern U.S. border is an undeniable crisis, and it is a crisis that has been perpetrated and perpetuated by the federal government. This administration’s refusal to secure our borders and enforce the laws of the United States invites persons from other countries to break our laws and cross our border illegally, I share the frustration of my constituents and hope that this crisis will be a catalyst for a renewed effort at achieving an immigration policy that is rooted in the rule of law.
If you need any additional information, please visit my website at hurt.house.gov or call my Washington office: (202) 225-4711, Charlottesville office: (434) 973-9631, Danville office: (434) 791-2596, or Farmville office: (434) 395-0120.