By Mary Drier
CARO — The issue of Central American youths who crossed illegally into the U.S. potentially being housed by Wolverine Human Services at its Pioneer Work and Learn Camp in Vassar came before the Tuscola County Commissioners during the last meeting’s public comment.
Besides speaking against Wolverine’s plan to house undocumented illegal refugees, Lou Smallwood also submitted a letter he said is signed by 12 other county residents against the plan, and expressed concerns about health and welfare of bringing in refugees.
Lisa Valentine asked commissioners to take a leadership role on the issue, and that she is concerned about financial burdens on the state and country by the influx of thousands needing services.
“We need to send a message that tax money needs to be spend on Americans,” said Vassar Township Clerk Mike Clinesmith.
Onna Clinesmith referred to Sun Tzu’s book, “The Art of War,” with its strategies to undermine government, and she feels it is being used here.
“America is overwhelmed financially now,” she said noting one of the book’s strategies is for small groups to gradually overtake the larger group.
Tom Wassa, who is the Fairgrove Village President and 84th District Representative Candidate, also urged the county board to support the effort to stop the refugees coming into the country.
Wassa says he has concerns about the issue from his years for working law enforcement in Dallas, Texas, in dealing with gang violence and illnesses brought by some crossing the border.
“You will be letting in more than just youths,” he cautioned. “Legislators have a lot of authority. Do what you can to persuade them to act on this.”
Although the commissioners took no formal stance on the matter, commission Chair Thom Bardwell expressed some concerns.
“While it is a national issue, it is having a local impact. From a county level, we are watching this closely. It is a major issue that could have an impact for generations to come,” said Bardwell.
According to Senator Mike Green’s Aid Jim McLoskey, legislation is being introduced on this issue “but very few details are being announced.”
“Mike (Green) and his staff are watching this. It is unfortunate that Mr. Kildee (Congressman Dan Kildee) comments were not accurate about (Tuscola County) not being involved in housing, when they were actually trying to be a subcontractor.
“The governor doesn’t seem to think this is a state issue… Mike isn’t afraid to disagree with him.”
Tuscola County Register of Deeds John Bishop, who had a private legal practice in Vassar, also gave his view on the refugee situation.
“I’m concerned about the illegal immigrants. They are here (in the United States) and have to be dealt with. I don’t fault Wolverine for wanting to take care of them and create more jobs,” said Bishop. “I’m more frightened of the kids that are housed now at the camp than the illegal aliens.
“This is a heated issue. There is more information to be learned. I hope clear minds are used.”
On the other side of the issue, the Advertiser was contacted by the Michigan United, Action of Greater Lansing, and the Mid-Michigan Immigration Coalition about the protests because they are concerned and want to send a positive message about immigrant children and families.
“Our members were strictly instructed not to engage with anti-immigrant groups, and kept our distance at all times from the opposing side. We do not condone any confrontation by protesting groups. We support the right of all groups to have their voices heard in the public debate,” the organizations’ response. “Central American refugee children are fleeing horrible violence in their home countries, and deserve to be protected until it is safe for them to return home. Many of them face escalating danger from drug gangs and human traffickers. These children deserve compassion and safety as their refugee claims are heard. They should not be targeted to score cheap political points.”
The groups noted they stand for comprehensive reform of the immigration system that includes an earned path to citizenship.
Saginaw Dioceses Bishop Joseph Cistone saw some of the conditions the undocumented refugees are fleeing during his visit to El Salvador in February.
“I witnessed firsthand the disturbing circumstances of children, some as young as five and six years old, seeking refuge in street gangs in order to escape the dysfunctional situation and even violence within their own homes. The gangs provide food, shelter and protection. However, the children pay a terrible price for membership in these gangs, finding themselves involved in a world of drugs and crime, creating their own level of fear and violence against others,” said Cistone. “Catholic Relief Services provides opportunities for those children – courageous enough to escape the gangs – to be educated, find employment, and transform their lives.
“There is now indication that some of these children may be transferred to an institution in Vassar where, for an estimated 2-4 weeks, they will be given shelter, food and education while the Department for Health and Human Services addresses their future.”
Cistone said he could understand the frustration on the part of people regarding the inability of the government to establish a comprehensive immigration policy.
“While people of good will may hold differing opinions about the causes of this crisis and the legislative means to appropriately address the question of immigration, as Christians, we must be concerned for the safety and well-being of the vulnerable children involved,” he said. “And so, I call upon all people of faith and good will to focus on the needs of these children who, in their innocence, come to us seeking safety.”
In the meantime as Wolverine Human Services officials wait to learn if their proposal to accept the refugee youths is accepted, protests continue, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry sent National Guard troops Monday to the boarder.
Mary Drier is a staff writer for the Tuscola County Advertiser. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.