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How is Virginia preparing to receive immigrants who have crossed our national southern border illegally? This is the question I have asked officials at the Dranesville District, Fairfax County, State and Federal levels for the last two weeks. The answer? No one knows, or admits to knowing.

Since the federal government is coordinating resettlement efforts, I called first to the Department of Health and Human Resources’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (which handles refugees, asylees and other displaced persons). I asked what sites in Virginia the department had designated. The spokeswoman told me she would give me the list the next day. But the next day, she told me there was no such list.

FEMA could/would not tell me what Virginia locations they had designated.

Neither the Virginia state refugee coordinator (now the Office of Newcomer Services) nor the refugee health coordinator (now the Newcomer Health Program Coordinator) knew – or admitted to knowing – anything about what plans the federal government has to house illegal immigrants in Virginia. And they said they had not even spoken to legislators about the situation! Likewise, the office of the Secretary of Virginia’s Department of Health and Human Resources had no information.

Turning to Capitol Hill, the offices of Senators Warner and Kaine, and the office of Representative Wolf, had no knowledge of what federal agencies might be planning for Virginia, nor could the staff tell me what, specifically, the legislators were going to do about the pending arrival of untold numbers of illegal immigrants into our state.

Officials at our Dranesville District also did not know what the federal government plans to do, and had not asked Virginia state officials what they knew or were preparing for. Dranesville is waiting for a report from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors before they can know what to do. And the Fairfax Board staff tells me to wait for the report, whenever it’s ready.

There is a pattern here. No one from the federal level on down to the local district level seems to know what’s going on, or admits to knowing.

In the meantime, we read press reports that citizens in Lawrenceville, Virginia (population 1400) turned away a federal attempt to place 500 illegal immigrants in their economically depressed town. And there is another report that a facility in Prince William County already is housing illegal youth at their location, but no one at that organization is talking with the press (nor to me when I contacted them).

The ramifications of illegal immigration in our area are numerous: local and state budgets must prepare to assume responsibility when federal money dries up, and school classrooms and local health clinics will be impacted. What about housing? Social services? Crime rates (known gangs are coming across the border)? By what authority does the federal government deposit – without warning -- unknown numbers of illegal immigrants into states, which ultimately will be responsible for the financial cost?

Most importantly: We are supposed to be a Nation of Laws; when “illegal” trumps “legal”, civil society crumbles.

For a long time now, the American public has been told we need “immigration reform” so people can come out of the shadows. It seems to me that our government’s immigration policies need to come out of the shadows first.

Catharine Trauernicht, McLean