WINCHESTER — A global faith-based organization thinks Winchester is an ideal community for international refugees who have been driven from their own countries.

Susannah Lepley, Virginia’s director of Immigration and Refugee Resettlement for the nonprofit Church World Service (CWS), told the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee this week that her organization — formed in 1946 as a partnership between 17 religious denominations that wanted to feed, clothe and shelter the impoverished — hopes to open an office in Winchester that would serve people who have been forced from their homelands due to political, social or religious persecution.

“We feel that refugees would add to the Winchester community,” Lepley said. “There would be more people to work here, and Winchester would be great for the refugees themselves.”

Lepley said the refugee resettlement office’s goal for the first year would be to bring in 100 refugees, which equates to about two families per month. However, that number could increase in later years if President Joe Biden follows through on his pledge to raise the number of refugees allowed into the United States annually. Currently, only 15,000 refugees are allowed in per year — a number that Lepley said is “a historic low” — but Biden has said he wants to elevate that number to 125,000, possibly as soon as October. Prior to the tenure of President Donald Trump, she said, the yearly average number of refugees allowed into the U.S. was 96,000.

“What we’re doing is building the structure so that when the presidential determination is 125,000, we’ll have places to send people that are welcoming towns, welcoming cities,” Lepley said.

The Winchester CWS office, at least initially, would primarily serve people who have fled Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Before they arrive, we find an apartment for them, we set up the apartment, we furnish it with everything from dishes to lights to beds, sheets, towels, shampoo, everything,” Lepley said. “We help them within the first seven days to apply for government assistance to get them through the first several months, provide very intensive case management for the first 90 days, and then we provide employment assistance, help put their kids in school, things like that for the first five years they’re here.”

CWS also helps refugees learn English and obtain permanent residence in the United States.

Committee member Kim Herbstritt asked Lepley why the refugees would come to the U.S.

“They’re invited by the State Department,” Lepley said, explaining the refugees have already applied for, and been granted permission to, emigrate to the United States by the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees.

In order to qualify for refugee status, Lepley said, applicants must prove they have a credible fear of persecution, or have already been persecuted, because of their heritage, social status, religious beliefs and so on, “and their country is either unable or unwilling to protect them or give them justice.”

It takes about two years for an applicant to be deemed a refugee by the United Nations, during which time they are subjected to extensive background and health checks.

“They are by far the most vetted group [of people] in the United States who have entered from different countries,” Lepley said.

Herbstritt said it may be difficult for Lepley to find enough local homes for the refugees. The city’s housing supply is so low that on Tuesday, only 19 homes were available for purchase in Winchester, and half of those cost more than $300,000 each. She recommended Lepley also look at available housing in nearby Frederick and Clarke counties.

If city officials give their blessing to the refugee resettlement office, Lepley said it would most likely open in April 2021 somewhere within city limits.

“Winchester has always been an open community,” Mayor and committee member David Smith said before the panel voted unanimously to recommend City Council’s approval of a resolution supporting the refugee resettlement office. Council will open discussions on the proposal at its next meeting on May 11.

Attending Thursday’s Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting in Rouss City Hall were Chairman Richard Bell and members Kim Herbstritt and David Smith.

— Contact Brian Brehm at bbrehm@winchesterstar.com

(33) comments

BryanLNuri

I can't for the life of me figure out how so man Sunday-morning Christians have redefined "refugee" into "lazy good-for-nothing illegals takin' our jobs".

Spock Here

Fascinating...many commentors are republican, who historically vote against caring about born babies, veterans, or pushing secondary education, not to mention the homeless and destitute. Look out in 10 years when the climate refugees start showing up...

MaggieLounds

If we could only help the people in our country the same way...........................

BryanLNuri

You have had all this time, why use this as a rebuttal?

Jim McCarthy

Hey, Doc Samson, liberals do get tired of being right. TY for the hyperlink source about a study of crime rates in Texas involving US citizens, legal immigrants, and undocumented. Texas as a proxy for Virginia or the nation is not my idea of refutation of the comment that you criticized. Let’s agree that the comment was not 100% correct, but neither is Texas a paragon jurisdiction.

Marymac

A beautiful and exciting opportunity to be able to help people who have lived with fears we cannot even begin to imagine, the “ huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. We would be fortunate to be able to help-

rgsheppard

According to the liberals, anyone who objects to this idea is a racist. Obama always promoted "having a discussion", but that only happened when one agreed with his position. Everybody else was racist. If people think this office proposal with resettle legally vetted immigrants, you live in a dream world. It will promote and enable illegal immigration, like the ones crossing our southern border. This will burden our already deplorable low income housing market, the unemployment market and welfare, and further lower our education system. Winchester is already experiencing downward spiraling SATs - facts, not racist views. Without education, strong family units, and employment, we will have a rise in criminal activity. Look at counties in Maryland and Virginia in which there has been a significant rise in MS13 violent activity. Stop playing the cards from your derogatory deck and stay with the facts. I'm not in favor of higher taxes to support illegal aliens when a legal process exists.

Doc Samson

1. You nor any other Leftist on here is a "liberal". They are few and far between these days, so, you are wrong there.

2. I was responding to the assertion that legal immigrants commit no crimes. That is clearly a ridiculous thing to say and anyone capable of rational thought would know that. Regardless, I figured I'd cite a source to show that, indeed, one of your fellow Leftists is, again as always, wrong.

You are quite welcome!

hvacread

No problem with legal immigrants. My issue is there is not enough affordable housing now. Need more affordable housing.

jake277

There it is again, the racist card. The only racist I see are the ones always playing the card, all the time.

BryanLNuri

Stop baiting the race card and there will be no reason to play the race card.

john brown

Why do the white nationalist always chime in on issues involving Winchester? No one is considering the backwards thinking frederick county for any humanitatrian gestures. I would bet these No vote folks are not native Americans thus their family immigrated here from somewhere, legally, they think.

cuphaus

Read the story. They are vetted first by UN agencies, then by USG (State Dept., Homeland Security, FBI). No one goes through more thorough screening. There have been zero incidents of legally admitted refugees performing criminal acts. We're supposed to be a welcoming people. The Bible enjoins us to welcome the stranger.

shinyhappypeople

👏👏👏

Doc Samson

Clapping for the narrative? [lol]

Doc Samson

"There have been zero incidents of legally admitted refugees performing criminal acts"

Do Leftists ever get tired of being wrong? Please, don't answer! It's a rhetorical question...

https://www.pnas.org/content/117/51/32340/tab-figures-data

As always, feel free to ignore reality in favor of your CNNarrative... [rolleyes]

MaggieLounds

Exactly............................

BryanLNuri

Great. He misspoke. However, your charts refute your own point: the undocumented commit crimes at far lower rates than citizens.

Cheddizzle

Or, perhaps we could take care of our homeless and destitute first

ginamcintire

Now here’s a thought that contains no demeaning name calling (John brown) that is as humanitarian if not more so.

john brown

This Christian has spent time and money helping the homeless and all humans in need ... throughout this world.

john brown

It's a simple fact, if you voted for tRump, you are a white nationalist ....possibly coupled with other character flaws.... tRump is a pathological liar, racist, confessed sexual predator, thief etc, etc .... one of the worse humans on this planet

BryanLNuri

Good idea. When do you start?

Boz

While the U.S. is removing statues, wouldn't now be a good time also to take down the Statue of Liberty? Why have a statue bearing the words "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free air ... the homeless, the tempest-tost" when so many in contemporary America feel the opposite? In this far-right nation that icon of democracy has become an icon of hypocrisy.

cletusbutzin

I dunno folks. I wonder how things would go if local residents had the vote on that one. My sense is they would vote 'no'.

Joe Crane

Agree. Besides, they are not refugees, they are illegal immigrants who need to go through the legal process of becoming residents or receiving a work visa. People live in Frederick County/Winchester to be away from city life and associated crime. No thanks!

slowe

These would be legal immigrants. Why do you assume they would be or become criminals? Your racism is showing.

BryanLNuri

So refugees are now illegals?

Blondie

My vote would certainly be NO.

StellaBob

Everyone of you fools is an immigrant. Wish people would have voted 'no' to you.

john brown

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

john brown

Not only are they immigrants or decendants of immigrants, they also call themselves Christians.... smh

BryanLNuri

Why would you say that? I thought this area, being as deeply Christian as it claims to be, would welcome the sojourner into the land of plenty.

Or is that just for those who earned it like you did?

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