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Some Michiganders protest against unaccompanied minors coming here

Michelle Huan
Michigan Radio

Some of the chaos at the U.S. and Mexican border has made its way to Michigan.

About 75 protesters turned out last night in in the tiny, mid-Michigan town of Vassar, population roughly 2,600. 

That's where a juvenile center is in talks to potentially house some of the unaccompanied minors flooding into this country from Central America.

Michigan Radio's Kate Wells sent us this field report. 

At first, Vassar looks like one of those idyllic Midwestern towns that time forgot.

But as you get into the main strip of town, things start looking a little dingier. The town's central square is mostly just a couple gas stations, a run down prom and tuxedo shop, and the city hall.

This place has been hit hard by the recession and the loss of local employers.

"We got veterans, we got kids of our own that can't even be helped," says John Anderson, one of the several dozen protestors waving American flags and "Return to Sender" signs.

"And we're going to help more people, that we can't even take care of our own first?"

It's not that there aren't enough resources to go around, says Anderson; he just thinks they'd be squandered on bussing and housing kids who should have just been turned around at the border. 

I ask him where else the kids should go, while they're being processed? 

"Send them back home. Send them home! If we cross over the border in their country they'd throw us in jail. No, they should be turned around right at the border."

A tall man next to Anderson chimes in. 

"What the people did in California was absolutely just. And it should be done right here in Vassar, if they bring a busload of them here," says the man, who gives his name as Jerry Katich.

That California reference he made - he's talking about a group of protesters in a small, southern California town who blocked buses carrying detained immigrants from coming into their town.

But not everybody agrees

Just on other side of city hall there are about 6 or 7 people, mostly women, who showed up to support the immigrant children coming to Vassar.

"My name is Rhonda Palmer. And I believe God created us all equal. Doesn't matter color, race, origin, religion. And we should all deserve the same."

I ask her to tell me about the hand-written sign she's holding. 

"I gotta just turn it around to read it here...'He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their maker. But whoever is kind to the needy honors God'. That's from Proverbs."

For the most part, people keep to their own sides of the protest lines.

But every so often a few verbal spats break out and the police have to gently step in...

"So we should just kill them? Kill them all? That's what the guns are about?" shouts one woman wearing a poster with a picture of Jesus on it. 

"That's trafficking! That's trafficking! What if they came into your house? Would they be welcome then?" a man whose face is beet red yells back.

So how would this really work? 

"We uh, projected and predicted that we would get resistance," says Derrick McCree, senior Vice President of Wolverine Human Services.

That's the center in Vassar that would potentially house up to 120 of the immigrant children.

They're in talks to subcontract with the federal government, which is looking around the country for safe beds in licensed centers to put these kids.

"Our goal is to help these children in need to move forward, to whatever it may be: to return to their country of origin, to become a United States citizen, whatever's decided."

McCree is very clear about this next part: the kids would stay on campus for everything - school, meals, the rec center, the dorms.

Meanwhile, they'll be processed through the immigrations system - some will apply for asylum here, but their chances of actually getting that are murky.

It could take years for that process to play out, even if the kids do in fact find their way to Vassar.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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