A new processing center for the next wave of Afghan refugees may be opened in Loudoun County, Virginia.
No contract has been signed yet, but the Department of Homeland Security briefed local elected leaders on possibly using the National Conference Center in Lansdowne as the first stop in this country for thousands of refugees.
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall said she prefers to call them asylum seekers.
“These are people who helped the U.S. government during our 20-year war," she said.
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“I think all of America and certainly the Ashburn community and the Lansdowne community welcomes these families on their journey to their final destination," said Supervisor Mike Turner, who represents the Ashburn district where the National Conference Center is located.
Loudoun County Sheriff Mike Chapman says he welcomes them, too, but he’s also raised concerns, suggesting the federal government should have begun working with the county sooner on logistics. Chapman was first notified of the plan Feb.4
“It was kind of like, wait a minute, we need to kind of get this ironed out, so we know if you’re going to have 2,000 refugees fly into Dulles International Airport every given month," he said.
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Unlike the Dulles Expo Center, where evacuees who arrived last summer and were processed, the National Conference Center is near a neighborhood and schools.
The sheriff’s complaints — raised in a social media post and press release — led to a personal apology from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and a promise the site would be fenced with security cameras installed.
"We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to get it right, to do the best that job we can to provide the right environment and safety measures for both the people coming in and the citizens surrounding that area,” Chapman said.
If the agreement is signed with DHS, refugees could start arriving as early as March 1. The conference center has about 900 rooms, including suites that can accommodate families. The asylum seekers’ stays in Loudoun County would be short before their resettlement all across the country.
“These individuals have been very well screened and vetted for security risk over and over again by the military,” Randall said.
Turner is confident if the contract is signed, the county will welcome the opportunity.
“It’s an enormous opportunity to show what America is really about and what our people are really about and what this community, the Ashburn and Lansdowne community, is really about," he said.
The National Conference Center released a statement reading in part, “Operation Allies Welcome is one of the largest global humanitarian efforts of its kind. We would welcome the opportunity to work with the Department of Homeland Security.”
If a contact signed soon, a public meeting will be held in the Ashburn area so residents near the center get information and can ask questions, Randall said.
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