Anger flares over planned alien teen immigrant shelter in Lawren - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

Anger flares over planned alien teen immigrant shelter in Lawrenceville

LAWRENCEVILLE, VA (WWBT) -

A fiery debate is raging over a controversial plan to house hundreds of undocumented, teenage immigrants in central Virginia. The Brunswick High School auditorium was packed Thursday night, during a town hall meeting over the issue. Angry neighbors spoke out about the move to set up the emergency shelter at St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville. The college closed last year after financial difficulties and low enrollment.

Federal Health and Human Services Department officials say they're putting the effort to convert St. Paul's College into the shelter on hold. That decision comes among backlash after short notice of the project was given to the community. The community learned of the plans just over a week ago. Federal officials say talks over using the school as a shelter began just a few months ago. However, the ink is already dry on a lease between the school and the federal government.

Neighbors waved "no illegal immigrant" signs well before the town hall meeting started.

One man questioned during the town hall discussion, "When did the U.S. government go into the orphanage business?" His comment received wide applause.

"I'm looking at potentially having to move away," said Ariel Daniel, a resident who's opposed to the project.

Hundreds of Central American kids who crossed the border without their parents were supposed to arrive at St. Paul's College Thursday. Those plans stalled after the immense backlash. The proposed emergency shelter on the college campus would house them until they're reunited with family members.

"The proposed plans to have St. Paul's College used as a facility for the UAC (unaccompanied alien children) is on hold," said Essie Workie of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the crowded auditorium. Workie also apologized to the crowd for the lack of communication.

Outraged neighbors continued to express fears over safety, security, disease, and how tax dollars are being spent.

Federal officials assured residents that all children will be screened for disease and criminal backgrounds. Officials told the crowd that the number of UAC's has skyrocketed in recent years, to an estimated 60,000 in 2014. Officials say legally, these children must be cared for. However, the audience didn't seem convinced, especially with problems facing their own hometown.

"We're concerned about the children like everybody else. We have a lot of children in our area that need help too," said Ray Thomas, who owns a business in the area.

Federal officials say the emergency immigrant shelter won't go forward unless it's backed by the community.

St. Paul's College would be one of at least a hundred of these types of shelters across the U.S. Stay with NBC12 for updates on this story.

Get the latest from NBC12's Kelly Avellino on Facebook and Twitter.

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