Central American children, if they come to Michigan, would stay just 2-4 weeks

Jul 9, 2014

Some 200 people and about a dozen media outlets stuffed into an airless high school cafeteria in Vassar, Michigan last night.

Protesters placed flags in front of the high school, where a community meeting was held to address some of the rumors swirling.
Protesters placed flags in front of the high school, where a community meeting was held to address some of the rumors swirling.
Credit Alyse Guenther / Michigan Radio

The small town of some 2,600 has been thrown into the center of the immigration debate during the past few weeks.

That's because a local juvenile center, Wolverine Human Services, is in talks to temporarily house as many as 120 of the unaccompanied Central American children flooding into the U.S.

And so far, Vassar appears very, very against that idea. 

For one thing, conspiracy theories abound, the most common of which seems to be that the federal government has a secret agenda.

"Why would they bring [these children] to all these communities, a thousand miles from where they are, educate them, house them, feed them ... and then send them back to Mexico?" activist Tamyra Murray asked the crowd. "Does that make any sense?" 

A loud chorus of "no" swept through the audience.

To clarify, none of these immigrant children would be from Mexico. These kids would only be from Central American countries, like Guatamala or Honduras. 

New information about the plan is released

The evening's marquee speaker was Derrick McCree, the senior vice president of Wolverine Human Services center.

Vassar is a small but lovely little town, with lots of lush lawns and close-knit neighborhoods.
Vassar is a small but lovely little town, with lots of lush lawns and close-knit neighborhoods.
Credit Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

He told the crowd he hoped to correct some misinformation that was spreading through town.

First of all, he said, Wolverine was approached in June by Heartland Alliance, a large humanitarian organization based in Chicago.  

Since then, they've been in talks to potentially house some of the children through Heartland, paid for with grants from the federal government.

As for whether these children were violent or had criminal ties, McCree said that had been ruled out, as the government was not allowing anyone with a criminal background to be transferred to these temporary shelters. 

Once the children did arrive at Wolverine Human Services, they would only be there for two to four weeks, he said. 

"The care we will provide will be medical care. Outside of the screenings the children receive within the border ... we would provide them with immunizations and a physical ... right away."

McCree said Wolverine would also provide "trauma counseling. Again, these kids are escaping harm's way, so we would provide counseling for these children." 

"Many of these children have not seen running water, flushing toilets ... so we would provide proper development for hygiene and proper etiquette within the United States in general."

"As for education: we would focus on ESL and things of that nature ... being able to read." 

McCree said they'd have to hire at least 55 new positions to help support the immigrant children's needs, assuming the contract is approved. 

A sense that the nation is watching how Vassar plays this out 

McCree wrapped up his remarks with this thought: how Vassar responds to this will resonate beyond the town's borders. 

"It does give Vassar the opportunity to set the tone for the nation ... to provide service for children that are in need."

That's at least one point on which McCree and those who are opposed to this plan agree.

"We hope that across the country, people are going to see what we're doing, and do the same thing," said Tamyra Murray, an anti-illegal immigration activist. 

She wants Vassar to inspire other towns to stand up to the federal government.

"It's time to put the responsibility back into the lap of the administration. Not into our laps or pockets," she added, as the crowd applauded. 

It's still too soon to say if any of the children will, in fact, be relocated to Vassar.