July 10, 2014 at 10:39 pm

Protests greet plans to house child migrants in Michigan

Protesters march outside Vassar High School to voice their opposition to the plan. (Neil Barris / AP)

Vassar— A facility that could house young immigrants from Central America is still in the running to provide shelter even as protesters in this mid-Michigan town came out against the plan.

Grosse Pointe Park-based Wolverine Human Services is seeking to subcontract with Heartland Alliance of Chicago to provide housing to an undetermined number of children. Heartland would contract with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help place the children in various locations, officials said.

U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint, said Thursday “no final decisions” have been made yet, but that Wolverine has applied is in the running to be a subcontractor. Vassar is in his district.

“Many of these young children are victims of violence — not perpetrators of violence,” Kildee said. “The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and it has always been a core part of our country’s values to protect those who seek refuge — especially children — from harm.”

Wolverine senior vice president Derrick McCree told a community-organized informational meeting Wednesday it wants to enter into a contract allowing its 145-bed facility in Vassar, east of Saginaw, to house children who fled violence in their home country.

“If we are allowed, our intentions are to move forward with this, but not without the support of local community and leadership,” McCree said.

Protesters gathered outside Vassar High School before the meeting. State police, Tuscola County sheriff’s deputies and Vassar police were parked outside and provided security during the meeting, which The Saginaw News reported drew roughly 200 people.

Tamyra Murray, an organizer for Michiganders for Immigration Control and Enforcement, described the children entering the U.S. border as an “invasion.” She said bringing children to the U.S. and Vassar would be in violation of federal law.

“If this program is allowed to proceed, it will never end,” she said.

The plans come as pressure continues to mount on the federal government to treat as refugees the thousands of children traveling alone from Central America and crossing the border into the U.S. Many of the 57,000 young people who have arrived unaccompanied since last fall fled violence in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

When asked last week where Gov. Rick Snyder stood on the issue, his spokesman, Dave Murray, said resettlement of the children is a federal issue, but “we are a welcoming state.”

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, whose district’s is just east of Vassar, said last week the federal government immediately should return to the country from where they came those who recently arrived in the U.S. illegally.

Wolverine Human Services’ plans for the Pioneer Work and Learn Center facility includes reviewing a contract to maintain a shelter for male unaccompanied minors ages 12 to 17. That could increase to 120 after an initial 60 arrive, McCree said.

“We’ll do anything in our power to help children. I understand it’s controversial, and many people might not agree with that,” McCree said. “We can’t make everyone happy.”

Under the plans, the children would stay at the facility for up to four weeks, receiving vaccinations and medical care, counseling, life skills development and etiquette training. Vassar Public Schools would offer English as a second language programs.

Federal money would pay for the children to stay at the facility, he said.

A man expresses concern about housing children from Central America at a ... (Photos by Neil Barris / AP)