Stoking fears over migrant worker housing in Port Sheldon, Michigan

Dec 15, 2011

It's never easy to get citizens to show up at a planning commission meeting, but in Port Sheldon Township they had a bigger turnout than normal because of concerns over migrant worker housing on a nearby blueberry farm.

Gred Chandler in the Grand Rapids Press reports that Carl Nelson, a local blueberry farmer, wants "as many as 17 workers" to live in a modular home to staff his farm.

Anonymous fliers went around the community displaying a news article from the Holland Sentinel about an assault in a migrant camp.

The flier read, in part:

"Do you want MIGRANT LABOR HOUSING in your neighborhood? <news article> How about 20 young men like this moving into your neighborhood. (sic)... Please help keep our neighborhoods safe. ATTEND THE PLANNING COMMISSION MEETING DEC. 14 at 6pm, Port Sheldon Township Hall

The anonymous flier was accompanied with information that said the migrant residents will likely be illegal immigrants and they will be "untraceable" if there are problems; and "migrant housing facilities are often unkempt, densely populated, and unruly"; and "there are families with children, single women, and elderly people living in our neighborhood."

Chandler reports that more than 50 people showed up to a meeting that is typically sparsely attended. Some expressing their anger over the fliers and some expressing their concern over the migrant housing project.

Resident Kathleen O’Brien was "disgusted by the flier left in her mailbox." From the GR Press:

O’Brien called the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance upon receiving the flier, which she said was a racist attack on Hispanics, and then she followed up by speaking in favor of Nelson’s housing request.

“I don’t know where you get the idea that you can judge someone by the color of their skin,” O’Brien said. “I feel sorry for whoever did this. They are living in fear and ignorance.”

But Brad Burrows, who lives next to the Nelson property, rejects the claim that the opposition is based on fear.

“It’s not about race,” Burrows said. “It’s about transient people coming and going without a vested interest in the township."

Blueberry farmers in the area say they can't operate without the help of migrant workers.