By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser
VASSAR – A Wolverine Human Services official told The Advertiser tonight that U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee’s office was “inaccurate” with a statement issued Tuesday claiming federal agencies aren’t considering housing undocumented Central American child immigrants in the congressional 5th District, which includes Vassar.
“I wish that they would have called our office before they released their statement, because they were, in fact, inaccurate,” said Derrick McCree, senior vice president at Wolverine, which plans to house up to 120 of the immigrants at a Vassar campus in the coming weeks, according to McCree.
McCree, one of the speakers addressing a standing-room-only crowd of several hundred people at an informational meeting inside the Vassar High School cafeteria tonight, said after the meeting that officials with the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement plan to set Kildee straight on the situation sometime this evening.
“Congressman Kildee’s office called — one of his staffers — asking me ‘Hey, what’s the deal here because our indications say that you guys are not in negotiations (to house immigrants)?’” McCree said. “Well, as I’ve said all along, we are not in negotiations with the federal government. Tonight was the first night I was able to release that our agency we’re contracting with is Heartland Alliance out of Chicago.”
McCree added that Wolverine is “in negotiations to service these children but it’s — again — a subcontract from Heartland Alliance.”
“If you look at Wolverine and the federal government, you’re not going to find anything,” McCree noted. “If you look at Heartland Alliance and the federal government, you’re going to find something.”
Tens of thousands of children have crossed illegally into Texas in recent months from Central American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Most are males and older than 14, according to federal sources. The federal government reports the youths flee to the U.S. to join family members already here, escape abuse or exploitation, or seek employment or educational opportunities.
McCree said the youths housed in Vassar will be males from ages 12 to 17. Wolverine hasn’t signed a contract with Heartland Alliance yet, but negotiations are proceeding, according to McCree.
“We don’t have any kids coming in yet,” McCree said. “There’s nothing locked in at all. Nothing.”
McCree said Monday that the immigrants could arrive in Vassar within “a couple weeks” if contract negotiations continue without a hitch.
Wolverine’s Vassar location hired 12 workers from the Vassar area, though, within the last week, according to McCree. He has said about 115 jobs will be created if Wolverine lands two contracts to house 120 refugees for less than a month at a time in Vassar.
The statement issued by Kildee, a Flint Township Democrat, said his office has been “in routine contact” with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and that “they have indicated that no facilities are being currently considered to temporarily house unaccompanied children in the 5th District.”