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Future uncertain for proposed Lawrenceville shelter

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LAWRENCEVILLE, VA (WWBT) -

A community is rallying right now against an effort by the federal government to house hundreds of undocumented, teenaged immigrants in Lawrenceville.

The Brunswick High School auditorium was packed tonight with angry residents speaking out about the move to set up the emergency shelter for these foreign teenagers at St. Paul's College. 

Right now, the answer is unclear as to whether the housing program will actually be put into place. Health and Human Services officials say they're putting the effort to convert St. Paul's on hold, but a contract between the school and the government was already signed. 

Emotions flared over the idea of hundreds of foreign children getting housed at the now shut-down St. Paul's College.

Neighbors waved "no illegal immigrant" signs well before the town hall meeting started. The community found out about the plans just over a week ago.
     
Hundreds of Central American kids who crossed the border without their parents were supposed to arrive Thursday. The proposed emergency shelter on the college campus would house them until they're reunited with family members. That plan was stalled after a major outcry over lack of communication with residents.

"The proposed plans to have St. Paul's college used as a facility for the UAC is on hold," Essie Workie of HHS said.

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

Health and Human Services officials assured residents that all children will be screened for disease and criminal backgrounds. Officials told the crowd that the number of unaccompanied alien children, or UACs, has skyrocketed in recent years. They say legally, alien children must be cared for, but the audience didn't seem convinced, especially with problems facing their own hometown.

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

Federal officials say the emergency immigrant shelter won't go forward unless it's backed by the community. The facility at the former St. Paul's College would be one of at least a hundred of these types of shelters across the U.S.

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