With thousands of unaccompanied illegal minors flooding across the U.S. border from Central America, the plan to house up to 120 of them in the town of Vassar, Michigan received a jolt Wednesday night from local community leaders and activists.
During the heated town meeting at Vassar High School, about 300 activist residents gathered to voice their concerns about a possible contract between Wolverine Human Services and the federal government to house the group of illegal teen immigrants in their community, according to watchdogwire.com.
Mlive.com reports that protesters gathered in the high school’s parking lot more than one hour before the start of the meeting. Michigan State Police, Tuscola County Sheriff’s deputies, and Vassar Police officers were parked outside the school to provide security during the meeting.
Though Wolverine is a social service agency for Michigan’s children, it is reportedly reviewing a contract from the Chicago-based anti-poverty organization Heartland Alliance to maintain a shelter for male unaccompanied minor teens. After an initial 60 teens, aged 12-17 years arrive, the number could increase to 120, said Derrick McCree, Wolverine’s senior vice president.
“If we are allowed, our intentions are to move forward with this, but not without the support of local community and leadership,” McCree said.
“We’ll do anything in our power to help children,” he added. “I understand it’s controversial, and many people might not agree with that. We can’t make everyone happy.”
“The children are fleeing from harm’s way and extreme poverty,” McCree said, adding that children with a known criminal history or gang affiliation would not be permitted to stay at the center.
Federal funds, he said, would pay for the teens to reside at the Vassar center. In addition, he said bringing in the teens would create 115 jobs.
Tamyra Murray, an organizer for Michiganders for Immigration Control and Enforcement (MICE), said the illegal children surging across the border amounted to an “invasion.”
“The children are a game to control to [sic] the nation,” Murray said. “If this program is allowed to proceed, it will never end.”
She added that the process of bringing children into the U.S. and Vassar is against federal law. These children, Murray said, should request sanctuary and refugee status in a neighboring country.
U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI), however, appeared to negate what McCree said by indicating that in his talks with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Vassar center was not being considered to house the illegal teen immigrants.
McCree, on the contrary, said Heartland Alliance began contacting him in June to ask if Wolverine could accept the illegal children from Central America, and Heartland representatives even toured the Wolverine facility on June 11. The facility is applying for the proper licensure to house the illegal children, he said.
Grosse Pointe Park-based Wolverine has a 145-bed juvenile center in Vassar called the Pioneer Work and Learn Center. The plan reportedly is that the illegal teens would stay at the facility for up to four weeks, receive vaccinations, medical care, trauma counseling, life skills development, and etiquette training.
The teens could also receive English as a second language instruction at Vassar Public Schools through its alternative education program, though they would not enter the general student population.
After up to four weeks, Heartland Alliance would reunite the teens with their parents or with relatives in the U.S.
“This places without question many Michigan families in harm’s way,” said Tom Wassa, a Republican candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives 84th district. “President Obama would be classified as a domestic terrorist. He is creating an atmosphere of fear and terror,” he added to cheers from other citizens.
Vassar City Mayor Pro-Tem Dan Surgent said he trusts Wolverine, but believes citizens should “put the blame where it belongs, right over in Washington, D.C.”