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Confused by refugee issue? Get the facts at noon today

September 11, 2007

In June of this year, Dave Jordan, director of the Washington County Community Action Council, wrote an opinion piece criticizing the project to resettle refugees in Hagerstown.

At the time, Jordan took pains to state that he was not opposing the idea of refugee resettlement, but knocking what he perceived as poor communication by the sponsoring organization, the Virginia Council of Churches.

After his piece appeared, Jordan was invited to attend a monthly meeting that included representatives of VCC, Hagerstown's Police Department, the Department of Social Services, Hagerstown Community College and the state refugee coordinator's office.

Jordan now supports the effort, so much so that he will be the moderator at an open forum on the subject that will be held Wednesday, Sept. 19 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College.

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In an August interview, Jordan said the 9 p.m. time for the forum's scheduled end will be extended if there are more questions that haven't been answered.

Can't make that meeting? Would you like to attend, but want to get more information before you go? Jordan will chat online on the subject tomorrow from noon to 1 p.m.

To access the chat, go toThe Herald-Mail Web site at www.herald-mail.com and click on "chat." Or you may send questions in advance to onlinechat@herald-mail.com.

Issues that might arise in either of these forums include the following:

The refugees are not illegal immigrants, but people certified by the federal government as fleeing persecution because of their race, religion or politics.

The refugees who have settled here want to work and the employers to whom The Herald-Mail has spoken say that unlike some native-born Americans, the refugees show up every day and have a good work ethic.

To prevent a repeat of the 2006 incident in which a refugee woman's morning sickness was mistaken for something worse, local police have been given the locations of all refugees and instructions on what to do if there is a problem.

To deal with transportation problems for those who otherwise couldn't get to jobs in the Hunter's Green Business Center on Hopewell Road, the state and local governments have combined forces to run buses from downtown Hagerstown to the job sites.

If you have other questions, we would encourage you to participate in one or both of these forums. Just as Jordan has pledged that the HCC event will go on until all questions are answered, The Herald-Mail will pledge that even if time expires on the online chat, we will get answers to all questions and e-mail them to those who asked.

This has been a contentious issue, so much so that both the Hagerstown City Council and the Washington County Commissioners have refused to commit relatively small amounts to the resettlement effort.

In both cases, the elected officials were reacting to their constituents' concerns about the program.

We believe some of those concerns were based on erroneous information. We request that local residents take another look at the issue, either today or on Sept. 19.

We also ask citizens to remember that the refugees did not sneak across the border, but were brought here by the U.S. government because their lives were in danger due to their race, religion or political beliefs.

Before you reject their appeal for a place in this community, listen to their stories and try to imagine what you would do if you were facing such persecution.

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