By Tom Gilchrist
For The Advertiser
VASSAR — This city has felt the heat from protesters against the proposed housing of 120 Central American immigrants at a Wolverine Human Services facility, but on Thursday night supporters of the plan warmed up Grace Lutheran Church with prayers, songs and promises.
“We are here to serve Vassar. We are here to make sure that these young people — if they’re here to stay — that we can try and find some way to comfort them,” said Bobby Deleon, president of the Mexican American Council in Saginaw, one of 16 speakers addressing about 190 people packed inside the church for the “Interfaith Vigil for Vassar and Refugee Children.”
Deleon said Michigan Latinos, including members of the Mexican American Council, American G.I. Forum and Saginaw Civica “will come to the aid of Vassar to help in any way we can to be positive, not negative.”
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.
Wolverine hopes to sign contracts to house up to 120 males ages 12 to 17. If that happens it would create about 115 jobs, according to Wolverine officials.
“We can find a way to care for them,” said the Rev. Robert Flickinger of St. Basil Catholic Church in South Haven in VanBuren County, following Thursday’s vigil.
Flickinger, who spoke at the event, said he has traveled to El Salvador at least 30 times on mission trips. Concluding his speech, Flickinger said each immigrant is “a human person, made in the image and likeness of God.”
Thursday’s vigil was sponsored by a group of organizations including Michigan United, an advocacy group backed by labor unions and various churches. While the crowd in the church heard readings from the Christian Bible, the Muslim Koran or the Buddhist Dhammapada, Michigan United member Diego Bonesatti of East Lansing stood outside the church holding a handmade sign that read “Baby Jesus Was A Refugee.”
During the program in the church, one woman waved a small American flag as the audience sang “This Land is Your Land” by the late American folk musician Woody Guthrie.
Following the event, Grace Lutheran Church volunteers served visitors coffee or iced tea, and homemade cookies.