Last June, community outrage forced the federal government to cancel plans to house hundreds of illegal alien children at a closed college in Lawrenceville, VA. A complaint filed by St. Paul’s College and nonprofit Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) of Virginia with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleges the move was racially motivated. Both entities also filed a separate complaint against the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) for canceling the lease, citing another alleged violation of anti-discrimination laws. “No one should block someone’s housing opportunity based on race or national origin,” said Helen O’Beirne Hardiman, fair housing director for HOME. “It’s unfair, and it’s completely illegal for government officials to step in to a private deal and say we don’t want Central American children coming to this community.”
Make that illegal alien Central American children who were part of the nine-month border border-busting surge that began last October. Approximately 66,000 Unaccompanied Alien Children (UACs) were detained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). HHS has released 37,000 of them to relatives and guardians in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The rest have been left in 116 temporary shelters in 16 states. The reason for the scope of the dispersal became obvious last Friday, when the Associated Press reported that 70 percent of illegal aliens families released, never showed up for their scheduled follow-up appointments.
Since this manufactured crisis has been occurring—and there is no other way to described the wholesale and willful abandonment of border security by the Obama administration–the feds have been under enormous pressure to find shelters for the thousands of children they were unable to place. At the suggestion of Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources Bill Hazel and Secretary of Education Anne Holton, they pursued a deal with St. Paul’s College, which stood to receive $160,000 a month to house approximately 500 children, mostly males age 15 to 17, at the facility.
College President Millard Stith was enthused by the prospect, and claims town and county officials whom he alerted gave him no indication they would resist it. “This is like manna from heaven,” he told the Washington Times. “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.”
Hope for the hefty payout was dashed by the other entity involved in this equation — namely, the people of Lawrenceville. Nearly 1,000 of the town’s total population of 1,300 showed up at a town hall meeting on June 19, and the overwhelming majority made it vehemently clear they were opposed to the deal. They expressed concerns ranging from disease and crime, to government overreach and the Obama administrations’s misguided spending policies. They were also angered that the ostensible deal had been orchestrated without their knowledge.
Brunswick County Sheriff Brian Roberts echoed that concern. “I was just shocked,” he said at the time. “The way this process has been handled puts more fear in our eyes, because it’s been shoved down our throat.” At the meeting, Kenneth Tota with the Office for Refugee Resettlement admitted as much. “We do apologize for the fact that you heard about this project too far along,” he told the crowd.
A day after the meeting the feds backed down. “We have heard the concerns of many of the residents and leaders of Lawrenceville about the proposal to temporarily care for unaccompanied children at the now-closed Saint Paul’s College. We have taken this proposal off the table and will move on quickly to identify other sites to temporarily house these vulnerable children,” HHS said in statement. Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner said HHS made the right decision. “Collaboration and local support is absolutely key for the success of a project like this,” he contended.
The twin lawsuits make it clear that collaboration and local support are irrelevant when there’s an agenda that must be served. In the complaint filed with HUD, the plaintiffs allege that elected and employed officials of the town of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County “orchestrated and implemented a plan to block the deal. Purported concerns by these individuals are grounded in false stereotypes about Latinos and reflect discrimination based on race, color, creed and/or national origin,” the complaint states.
Sheriff Roberts was singled out for “discriminatory statements,” because he told the media, “There is this negative perception of gang violence—these people are coming from Central America.” The townspeople were accused of making statements that were “facially discriminatory” and of using “thinly veiled coded language” to express animus towards national origin.
Hardiman pushed the envelope even further. Despite the reality that there was no vote on the project by local officials, she contends their vocal influence with regard to the eventual outcome is sufficient to pursue the complaint. “The officials really organized the backlash and they provided this platform for townspeople to voice their opposition. And, ultimately, I think that the officials are really responsible for the deal being squashed,” she told Watchdog.org. She also claimed that documents HOME procured under the Freedom of Information Act indicate officials stirred up the residents’ resistance via “unofficial actions behind the scenes.”
Roberts wasn’t buying it. He believes the complaint has “zero merit” and College President Stith is “just grasping for anything to create controversy.” He further insisted that everyone “has a constitutional right to have an opinion and express a position,” and that issues of race “never came up until this complaint.” He once again pointed his finger at the feds. “That whole fiasco was really the federal government and just pure mishandling,” he contended. “Lack of communication, lack of transparency, lack of consistency. Everything was a train wreck.”
Stith put out a press release stating the school had been “severely injured” by the failure to procure a deal. Yet the historically black college founded in 1888 filed for bankruptcy in June 2013, following the failure of a deal that would have allowed Saint Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C. to acquire it. According to the New Pittsburgh Courier, the deal “collapsed under the weight of Saint Paul’s debt.” Stith apparently believes he’s entitled to a taxpayer-funded windfall to give the college “the much-needed funding to complete necessary improvements to the campus and repay creditors,” the statement added.
Hardiman claims the children who were never sheltered at St. Paul’s were also “dramatically injured,” and that HHS should reconsider the deal “to prevent further injury, if possible.” She also issued a warning to other localities who might have the temerity to resist having illegal alien shelters imposed upon them, insisting these complaints serve as a lesson in that regard. “We want municipalities to know that they can’t step in and block housing opportunities for people based on their race, color and national origin,” she said.
According to HUD, the Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination “in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. Such discrimination is illegal regardless of the victim’s immigration status.” Furthermore, HUD “does not inquire about immigration status when investigating claims of housing discrimination.”
In this case, the immigration status is a known quantity. All that remains to be seen is whether legitimate concerns of people exercising their First Amendment rights in various incarnations at a town hall meeting can be construed as “racial discrimination.” It also remains to be seen if the Obama administration is now willing to pursue a policy of imposing illegal alien shelters wherever they choose, whether local residents want them or not.
Lawrenceville Mayor William H. Herrington wants to reserve comment on the complaint until he is officially served with it. But he had no problem with the town hall meeting that scuttled the deal. “We do live in America,” he explained. It is an America where border security is virtually non-existent, and illegal aliens apparently have the right to be sheltered at taxpayer expense in locations contrary to the wishes of citizens who inhabit them — lest they be threatened with litigation. “America In Name Only” may be closer to the truth.
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