American Family News spoke to Sheriff Michael Chapman, who has served as sheriff of Virginia's Loudoun County for 10 of his 44 years in law enforcement.
On February 4, Chapman's office received word from the Federal Protective Service of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that the National Conference Center (NCC) in Loudoun County would begin temporarily housing Afghan refugees. The sheriff was informed that the group comprised former interpreters and their families, and that only about 30% were able to speak English.
Chapman was informed that within weeks, thousands of Afghan evacuees would be shuttled through nearby Dulles International Airport with 1,000 of these individuals being housed at the NCC for several weeks until relocation – and that this process would continue until September.
Having been given zero forewarning, Chapman considered the unplanned responsibility "a big bomb to drop." And he was particularly alarmed at first because the NCC is located in a residential area with no fencing or other security measures in place around the corporate training facility.
"[NCC] is within walking distance of several homes, a high school, and a middle school," he points out.
While the sheriff had some legitimate concerns about the vetting process, Chapman indicates he was more distressed that "nobody had a plan on how this [sudden undertaking] was going to go." He raised his concerns with a staff member of DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, as well as with Mayorkas himself, and also publicly addressed the agency's impromptu request in a press release on February 17.
While DHS may not have been eager to make a public comment, the Loudoun County sheriff says he answers to the citizens he served and found it necessary to keep them informed.
"[That's why I called] a meeting of everybody I thought had a legitimate stakeholder interest in the ordeal and would be impacted by it – and the community had a right to know what's going on," he tells AFN.
Questions that demand answers
Prior to going public with what he had been told by DHS, the sheriff found that many people in the county felt they had not been properly informed of the plan.
"I'm not inconsiderate of Afghans who put their lives on the line, but this was all about planning and organization," Chapman explains, "[and] people need to know what's coming – [particularly] considering that this was going to impact their neighborhood.
"I can't do anything to facilitate or prevent it, but this is a deal between DHS and NCC," he adds.
Accepting the inevitable, he felt several questions required an answer, including but not limited to the following:
- Did anyone contact fire and rescue?
- Did anyone contact medical personnel?
- Was the local hospital contacted?
- Did anyone contact social services?
- Did anyone contact mental health services?
- Was anyone contacted prior to putting the plan in place?
- How does one handle public safety and law enforcement related issues?
"Should any concerns come up, my office needed to be able to address [these questions] properly, quickly, and efficiently," Chapman states, "[but] the answer was no to each of them because there had been no planning. It was very disconcerting."
In conclusion, Sheriff Chapman explains he took the steps he did to inform the public and prepare for the months ahead.
"There has to be an operational plan in place," he argues, "so that each of these things are thought about in advance – before they become issues."