Happy 4th of July! I hope all the parades, picnics, and fireworks will be terrific! There are so many places in the world today where the “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air” actually are military armaments, not carefully planned colorful displays we enjoy at the Mall or local park. I am thankful every day that we live in such a great, and peaceful, nation. No wonder people want to come here.
And there’s the rub. Recent media reports have focused on thousands of children fleeing to the United States from Central and South America, unaccompanied by their parents or other responsible adults. The federal government, according to the reports, is housing the children in old federal facilities in Arizona, California, and Texas, while efforts to identify the children and what to do about them continue. The numbers apparently have overwhelmed the ability of the Border Patrol and other federal agencies to handle the situation. Last week, the small town of Lawrenceville, Virginia, near the North Carolina border, was in the news when it learned of a federal plan to house 500 children at St. Paul’s College, a historic black college that is closing. The town of about 1400 residents apparently had not been consulted ahead of time, and town leaders were concerned about how its existing infrastructure – police, fire protection, schools – could handle an increase of so many children at once. No one had time to plan.
And there’s another rub. Local governments provide local services; the feds don’t. Local governments plan for gradual growth in services needed by residents and businesses, based on trends tracked across time. While extra services, such as those generated by weather-related incidents, usually can be accommodated on an emergency basis for a short time, the situation is much different for long-term needs. Long-term planning is critical, and that is why, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, I asked County Executive Ed Long to examine the issues and provide the Board with recommendations about steps that may be needed to handle an unexpected influx of unaccompanied children, if such an event should occur, and report back at our July 29 Board meeting.
Fairfax County has a long history of welcoming newcomers. In the mid-1970s, Vietnamese refugees, many with professional degrees, came to Fairfax after the fall of Saigon. In the early 1980s, Afghani refugees, including educators and engineers, came after the Russians invaded their homeland. They have opened businesses, raised families, and became an integral part of the diverse tapestry of our community. In 2005, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated the Gulf Coast, Fairfax County welcomed a few hundred families who were forced out of their homes. Volunteers and non-profit agencies stepped forward, as did the school system, to provide temporary assistance for about a year, until the families could return home.
We should be able to meet any challenge, with good planning. That’s the gist of my Board Matter, and something to think about on Independence Day.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.