Cuban refugees were milling outside the barracks at the relocation center here when Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist got out of a car and began shaking their hands.
"What is your name?" Gilchrist asked, as he greeted a Cuban youngster. "Louise?"
A woman wearing pink curlerls told Gilchrist, in Spanish, that she could not find her husband and that they had been separated when they left Cuba a few weeks ago.
Gilchrist, who does not speak Spanish, gave the woman his card.
"This is our phone number," he said. "If you come to Montgomery give us a call."
Gilchrist visited the camp last week, he said, to "learn about the characteristics of the people and how the processing was going up here." But only a handful of the more than 100 Cubans Gilchrist met were planning to settle in Montgomery County.
During the past few months, 194 Cubans have settled in the county, most of them in the Takoma Park and Silver Spring areas. Some spent their first few weeks in the United States at the reloclation center here; others came to Montgomery from other relocation centers.
Gilchrist said he could not estimate the number of refugees who will settle in Montgomery during the next several months but he no longer expects that as many as 2,000 will come into the county as was first predicted.
During lunch, Army General Grail Brookshire, head of the task force charged with processing the refugees, told Gilchrist that most of the Cubans at the center are skilled workers, including carpenters, masons and bricklayers. Brookshire said that about 2,000 of the 19,000 refugees who have come to the center could be considered "undesirables" because they have criminal backgrounds. Of this number, 156 were considered dangerous and were sent to federal prisons.
Of the 12,000 Cubans now living at the camp, about 65 percent are men who are not with a spouse or child, 6 percent are women without a family member, and the rest are families.
At the center, immigration authorities try to contact a friend or relative of each refugee. Those friends of relatives often agree to "sponsor" the refugee and provide him or her with food and housing until he or she finds a job.
The county government has hired three parttime workers to help the refugees find housing, give them job training and teach them English.