Sheriff Chapman Addresses Potential Relocation of Afghan Refugees by DHS to the National Conference Center in Lansdowne
Loudoun County, VA (February 17, 2022)- On February 4, 2022, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) received an unannounced visit by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Federal Protective Service (FPS) in which it learned that approximately 2000 Afghan refugees, per month, were slated to arrive at the Washington Dulles International Airport during a window beginning as early as February 19, 2022, and extending to September 2022. DHS/FPS regional personnel advised the refugees would be transported by bus to the National Conference Center (NCC) 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 refugees, for the most part, would enter the US from Qatar. DHS/FPS advised that the refugees will be provided cash and cell phones from non-government organizations and be required to remain on the NCC 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.
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. These concerns are provided below:
What level of vetting has been conducted to ensure refugees entering Loudoun County had aided the United States and were not a threat to the US or our local community?
DHS Response - 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.
Considering the NCC is located within a largely residential area of Lansdowne and within walking distance of Riverside High School and Belmont Ridge Middle School, what arrangements were made with Loudoun County stakeholders to ensure the area is secure for the community?
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.
When pressed further about safety issues, DHS stated that the NCC would be designated a federal facility. What would that mean?
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.
What communications had been done to prepare area residents who may be impacted by this?
What coordination with other Loudoun County stakeholders had been performed to this point to include Loudoun County Fire and Rescue (for medical emergencies), Loudoun County Public Schools, Loudoun County Department of Mental Health, Social Services, local hospitals, the Adams Center, or other area houses of faith, or the County government at large?
None. 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.
What federal financial assistance would be proposed to help with the added responsibilities to stakeholders?
DHS proposed grant funding. Unfortunately, any grant funding would likely be available well after the projected September exit date of the refugees.
Sheriff Chapman’s concerns were brought to the highest levels of DHS and on February 8th, he received a telephone call directly 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.
On February 15, 2022, Sheriff Chapman and his command staff met with members of DHS FPS, the US Secret Service, and FEMA, at which time Sheriff 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.
“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 Sheriff 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.