On Thursday, Loudoun County's sheriff revealed that the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Protective Service had made an unannounced visit to the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office to inform them that starting as soon as Saturday, a local conference center would be used to house Afghan refugees.
Sheriff Michael Chapman wrote in a Thursday press release that the FPS said around 2,000 Afghan refugees would be arriving at the Washington Dulles International Airport during a window beginning as early as February 19, 2022, and extending to September 2022.
The DHS/FPS said that refugees would be transported by bus to the conference center, where they would stay "until their ultimate relocation elsewhere in the United States."
"DHS/FPS estimated that no more than 1000 refugees per month would remain at the NCC at any given time until September 2022," the press release states.
A large portion of the refugees are reportedly arriving from Qatar. When they arrive, they will be provided cash and cell phones from non-government organizations, and are required to remain on the conference center’s grounds.
"As the information was vague, Sheriff Chapman raised this issue at a committee meeting the following day in Washington, DC. He was immediately contacted by members of DHS and received a phone call from the DHS executive staff. A follow-up conference call with a senior member of FEMA occurred the following day where he raised concerns about DHS’ lack of communication, lack of planning, language barriers, a failure to communicate with a myriad of potential stakeholders, and the NCC’s unfenced proximity to a residential neighborhood and two public schools," the press release states.
"While the LCSO is more than willing to assist Afghan refugees and their families who provided support to our military and defense personnel in Afghanistan, DHS had difficulty addressing several concerns raised during a subsequent conversation," it added, before listing off these concerns.
The first addresses concerns regarding the vetting of these refugees, and whether they would be a threat to the local community or the US.
The DHS responded: "Refugees had been carefully vetted and many served as translators."
"However, when asked how if in fact they served as translators when only 30% of the refugees spoke English, DHS responded that many of the incoming refugees were family members of the translators," the press release added.
The second concern addresses the location of the conference center, which resides in a residential area of Lansdowne and within close proximity of two schools, and what has been done to ensure safety in the area.
"DHS advised that the FPS would provide 15 officers for security at the NCC. However, the FPS has no law enforcement jurisdiction in Loudoun County and cannot enforce nor investigate any criminal activity on the campus," the press release states.
"When pressed further about safety issues, DHS stated that the NCC would be designated a federal facility. What would that mean?" the press release asks as one of the concerns.
"Basically nothing. Regardless of that designation, any potential criminal activity or domestic issues that might occur on the NCC campus would not fall under federal code but under state and local law, therefore limiting FPS’ ability to intervene, assist, or investigate these matters," it states.
When asked what communications have been done to prepare residents that may be affected by these actions, Chapman said: "none."
Another concern asks if coordination has been done with other Loudoun County stakeholders like local emergency services, schools, and hospitals, Chapman said there has been no coordination.
"DHS stated that no coordination had occurred and that no notifications had been made to the community surrounding the NCC (as of February 15). Additionally, no coordination had been performed either with the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Director of Public Safety," the press release states.
The final concern regards whether federal financial assistance has been proposed to assist with the added responsibilities of the stakeholders, to which Chapman said the DHS has proposed grant funding, but "Unfortunately, any grant funding would likely be available well after the projected September exit date of the refugees."
These concerns addressed by Chapman were brought to the "highest levels" of the DHS, and on Feb. 8, he received a phone call from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.
"Secretary Mayorkas apologized for the lack of communication by DHS with the LCSO and other stakeholders but assured Sheriff Chapman that his concerns would be addressed," the press release states.
Chapman and members of his command staff met with members of the DHS FPS, the US Secret Service, and FEMA on Feb. 15, where Chapman "insisted that DHS draft a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to ensure the roles and expectations of all stakeholders are clearly delineated and agreed upon, as well as the duration the refugees will be staying at the NCC. DHS offered to provide security cameras, fencing around the perimeter with additional FPS personnel and interpreters; however, no additional accommodations were offered."
"As of this date, a draft MOU has not been produced and DHS has not yet contracted with the NCC," the press release states.
"As I have a responsibility for the safety and security of Loudoun’s citizens, I want to ensure that our community is aware of the concerns we have raised and the expectations we have from our partners with the federal government. Currently, those expectations have not been met, and we continue to have concerns as to whether the NCC is an appropriate location to support this mission," said Chapman.
"We will continue to keep our community informed as this process continues. If the resettlement proceeds, we will work with the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors and all stakeholders to ensure that appropriate resources are obtained for the refugees’ successful transition into the United States," he added.
Reports of housing refugees in Loudoun County come on the heels of a similar arrangement at Dulles Expo Center and other local facilities in the Northern Virginia area, during which there were reports of refugees leaving the area, according to the Washington Examiner.
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