Recent Press Releases
Jun 17 2014
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Robert Hurt (R-Virginia) released the following statement in response to recent reports that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is considering using the campus of St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, VA as a detention center for juvenile illegal immigrants who have unlawfully crossed our U.S. border:
"Yesterday morning, I sent a letter to Secretary Burwell asking that her agency immediately stop their plans to locate at least 500 juvenile illegal immigrants on the campus of St. Paul's College in the small town of Lawrenceville. I made this request based upon the very serious public safety and public health concerns expressed to me by my constituents and their local elected officials over the course of this weekend. Like the local elected officials of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County, I was first informed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in an email sent late on the evening of Friday, June 13, that HHS had closed a deal to locate this juvenile detention facility in Lawrenceville. While I have seen nothing in writing, my office was informed yesterday afternoon by HHS that they have ‘paused’ the process and that the juveniles will not be transported to Lawrenceville this week. While this may be a positive development, I have yet to see any evidence that this means that HHS has rescinded its contract with St. Paul's College or that they are actually halting the implementation of its plan. In the event that HHS intends to operate in good faith, I would request that they completely halt the implementation of this plan and return to the drawing board. If the HHS plan is indeed good for the people of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County, then they should begin with a transparent and open process that includes the community and the local elected officials every step of the way and ensures compliance with all local, state, and federal laws – including the local zoning ordinances of the town of Lawrenceville."
Below is text of the letter from Congressman Hurt to HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell:
June 16, 2014
The Honorable Sylvia Burwell
U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20201
Dear Secretary Burwell:
I represent the good people of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County in the U.S. House of Representatives. It has come to my attention that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has signed a lease to rent the campus of St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville for the purpose of operating a detention center for minor illegal immigrants who have unlawfully crossed our U.S. border and that your agency is in the process of transporting at least 500 of these minors to the town in the coming days. It is also my understanding that neither the local elected officials for Lawrenceville or Brunswick County nor the people of these communities have been engaged in any meaningful way during the decision-making process. Furthermore, it is my understanding that by using St. Paul’s campus to detain these minors, the federal government will be violating the long established zoning laws enacted and enforced by the town of Lawrenceville. Based upon the concerns expressed to me by the people I represent, I request that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stop this process immediately.
First, I am very troubled by the manner in which HHS has rushed to this point without any meaningful consultation with the local elected members of the Lawrenceville Town Council or the Brunswick County Board of Supervisors. According to the officials with whom I have spoken, the first time they learned about any of this was when they read an article in the Richmond paper on Thursday – which is also how I first heard about the subject. After reading the newspaper article, shocked Lawrenceville and Brunswick County officials frantically began trying to discover the facts over the course of Thursday and Friday, and Lawrenceville called an emergency council meeting on Friday evening. At the same time, my office contacted your agency on Thursday and we were informed that St. Paul’s campus was in fact under consideration but that it was the beginning of a long process. We now know that this was not the beginning of the process at all, but was instead the very same day that the lease with St. Paul’s was signed. Then on Friday, June 13 – after business hours and after the emergency meeting of the Lawrenceville Town Council had concluded – HHS sent out an email indicating that a final decision had been made and that minor illegal immigrants would be transported to the St. Paul’s campus possibly within the week. I trust that you can understand why my constituents may feel like they have been ambushed by your agency and why they believe that, in the words of one official, this “deal is being jammed down our throats.”
Second, I am also troubled by HHS’ seeming complete and blatant disregard for the very important responsibilities that the Lawrenceville and Brunswick County elected officials have to their constituents. On behalf of these constituents – who are also the taxpayers who underwrite the services – these officials have been entrusted to provide law enforcement, fire, and rescue squad protection and water, sewer, and waste disposal service for the entire town and county – including the campus of St. Paul’s – and it is not unreasonable to expect that these officials would have been fully consulted in developing HHS’ plan. Furthermore, you can imagine the news that 500 minor illegal immigrants are suddenly going to be dropped down into the quiet courthouse town of Lawrenceville (with a population of 1500) within a week raises very serious questions for those who have been elected to protect the public safety and public health of their community. They have very reasonable questions about what public safety and public health risks will accompany these 500 minors, how HHS will guarantee the safety of the community, and what additional demand for services will be imposed upon the taxpayers of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County. Your agency’s failure to acknowledge the important responsibilities of the elected officials of Lawrenceville and Brunswick County demonstrates not only a lack of understanding of their duties but also a lack of respect for the people they represent.
Finally, and perhaps most important, I am troubled by your agency’s seeming total disregard for the local zoning laws that are in place in the town of Lawrenceville. It is my understanding from local officials that under the current zoning laws, the campus of St. Paul’s College, which was a historically-black college founded in the town in 1888, is zoned strictly for use as a school. And while these laws are enacted at a local level, the town derives its authority to enact such laws from the Commonwealth of Virginia. But despite these lawfully enacted ordinances, your agency appears to be in the process of locating a detention facility on the St. Paul’s campus right in the middle of the town of Lawrenceville. As a member of the United States Congress, I am appalled that the federal government is poised to plainly violate the local laws that have put in place to promote the public safety, health and welfare for the town of Lawrenceville. I trust you will insist that your agency comply with all laws – local, state and federal.
In conclusion, it is my request that your agency and all other federal agencies involved in this process stop immediately. In the event that your agency wishes to proceed with this plan, I would request that you first provide all information necessary to our local elected officials and local law enforcement, consult with them in a meaningful way, and ensure that you are complying with all local, state, and federal laws.
Please find the enclosed letter I have received from my constituents, Bernard Jones, Chairman of the Brunswick County Board of Supervisors, and Robert Pecht, Member of the Lawrenceville Town Council. I look forward to your response.
cc: Honorable Bernard Jones, Brunswick County Board of Supervisors, Chairman
Honorable Robert Pond, Lawrenceville Town Council, Mayor
Honorable Bill Herrington, Lawrenceville Town Council, Mayor-Elect
Honorable Robert Pecht, Lawrenceville Town Council
Honorable Brian Roberts, Brunswick County Sheriff
Charlette Woolridge, Brunswick County Administrator
CJ Dean, Lawrenceville Town Manager
Everette Gibson, Lawrenceville Chief of Police
Honorable Mark Warner, U.S. Senator
Honorable Tim Kaine, U.S. Senator