By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser
VASSAR — Opponents of a plan to house undocumented Central American immigrants here say they’ll seek a court injunction if necessary to try to halt arrival of the youths from ages 12 to 17.
“This is going to be a full-fledged campaign to stop this — not just one or two events,” said Tamyra Murray of Saginaw County’s Blumfield Township, one of about 40 protesters marching Monday from Vassar City Hall to a Wolverine Human Services facility that hopes to house up to 120 male immigrants for up to one month at a time.
Once near the gate leading into Wolverine’s Pioneer Work and Learn Center and other Wolverine facilities, protesters joined for a prayer, sang “God Bless America” and chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” A few protesters carried rifles or pistols, but the group kept about 15 yards from police officers blocking the entrance to Wolverine facilities off Enterprise Drive.
“This is a pretty orderly bunch, but I just think it’s a shame they can go to a little town to protest because they can get away with it,” said Vassar resident Nancy Whitney, 81, driving a mobility scooter through the crowd to engage protesters in conversation.
“Why don’t they go to the border instead of sitting here spinning their wheels?” Whitney asked.
Tens of thousands of children and teenagers have crossed illegally into Texas in recent months from Central American countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The federal government reports the youths flee to the U.S. to join family members here, escape abuse or exploitation, or seek employment or educational opportunities.
Once at Wolverine, the youths would receive medical care and basic education before going through immigration courts or being returned to their home countries. President Barack Obama has asked Congress to authorize $3.7 billion to cope with the surge in unaccompanied minor migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
Murray, founder of Michiganders for Immigration Control and Enforcement, or MICE, alleges Vassar City Council members met “behind closed doors” several months ago to consider amending a city zoning ordinance that — if approved — would allow the immigrants’ arrival at Wolverine.
When asked if City Council or city Planning Commission members met “behind closed doors,” City Manager Brad Barrett said “Not to my knowledge.” There is a public hearing at the City Council’s Aug. 4 meeting at 7 p.m. regarding a proposed change to the city zoning code regarding “non-conforming” lots, uses of land, structures, and uses of structures and premises, according to Barrett.
Protesters will appeal the decision if the City Council changes the zoning code, Murray said. “We have legal counsel,” she said, but wouldn’t name the attorney or say who — if anyone — is paying for legal services.
Wolverine officials “can’t bring the kids in if there’s an injunction placed on them,” Murray said.
Monday’s protest at Vassar City Hall and the march to the Wolverine facility was the second protest at City Hall in a week. A public information session last week at Vassar High School, organized by the Concerned Citizens Committee, also drew protesters.
At the first protest July 7, Vassar resident Loren Wooten, 57, said Vassar should take in the Central American immigrants.
“They are children — I don’t care what color their flag is,” Wooten said. “Their blood is red. They are God’s children, they are alone, they are scared, they are hungry. They need to be taken care of.”
But on Monday, several hours before the start of the protest march, Vassar resident Terry Mocny Sr. stood alone along the march route on East Huron Avenue, holding a sign stating “No Illegals Here — Not in My Neighborhood.”
Derrick McCree, Wolverine senior vice president, said Monday that “People have a right to voice their opinions; we understand that.” But McCree said “Most of the local (Vassar) officials I talk to say the majority of the people in these protests are not from the city of Vassar.”
Wolverine Human Services, based in Grosse Pointe Park, has opened a number of facilities in Vassar — the first being Pioneer Work and Learn Center in 1988. About 150 male and female youths from 40 Michigan counties now reside at the Vassar Campus, according to McCree.
McCree said last week that Wolverine’s Vassar location has begun hiring workers from Vassar. He has said 115 jobs will be created if Wolverine lands two contracts to house 120 immigrants.
Murray, however, said Monday that “Not that many people will be hired from this area; we don’t have many who can speak the languages (of both Spanish and English).” She predicted the majority of workers would come from areas including metropolitan Detroit.
Anne Light, 45, of Genesee County’s Richfield Township, walked in Monday’s protest march along with her 12-year-old daughter, Maddi. Anne Light said she was protesting on behalf of her daughter, Alyssa Parker, and son-in-law, Nick, who live in Vassar but were working and couldn’t attend the march.
“That’s why I’m here,” Anne Light said. “Not in their back yard. Too close.”
Leszek Sulanowski, 63, of Tuscola County’s Novesta Township, also walked in the march. He held a sign that read “Seal Broken,” and said “If we had proper border security, we wouldn’t have this problem — and I fault both (political) parties.”
Sulanowski said “I was born in the U.S. and my mother came here from Poland in the late 1920s — but she was a legal immigrant.”