Vassar had not seen in many years the kind of attention it received on the evening of July 7 when scores of demonstrators descended on the small rural Michigan town to voice concerns over the possible locating of more than 100 illegal immigrants at a nearby facility operated by Wolverine Human Services. A city council meeting was convened at 7 PM in Vassar, which lies approximately two hours north of Detroit and is better known for its annual Pumpkin Roll when residents hurtle the iconic orange gourds down a hill in the town during the month of October.
A group numbering approximately 100 assembled on a corner at an intersection near the city council chambers. Bearing Gadsen flags and placards condemning the Obama administration and the current surge of immigrants across America’s southern border, residents of Vassar and beyond expressed fears of contagion from diseases they believe immigrants may have and over the burden they may carry as taxpayers who will foot the bill for housing and feeding illegal immigrants being brought to the area from the Texas, California and Arizona border region.
In general the gathering was peaceful. Approximately twenty law enforcement officers representing the Vassar City Police, Michigan State Police, and Tuscola County Sheriff were on hand. The city police chief was seen to speak peaceably with various members of the public and shepherding them into city council chambers to hear council members deliberate. There have been rumors that Wolverine Human Services, a company that provides rehabilitation services to minors, may be contracted by the federal government to keep up to 200 minors at its Vassar facility. The rumor was not clarified at the city council meeting. So far, Wolverine has steadily denied that it has been so engaged by the federal government.
Some of those protesting against placing illegal immigrant minors in the community also made free use of their right to bear firearms, in compliance with Michigan’s open-carry laws. At least four men were seen bearing what appeared to be AR-15-style weapons, as well as pistols openly carried on their hips. Two of them were seen to enter council chambers bearing weapons.
A group of counter-protesters were also on hand, organized by Michigan United and its executive director, Ryan Bates. According to its website, Michigan United was formed in 2013 from the merger of Michigan Organizing Project and the Alliance for Immigrant Rights “to form a statewide organization of churches, labor, and community groups which will work to ensure that our economy works for the many, our civil rights are protected, and our democracy is strong. Together, along with our member institutions and individuals, we seek to affirm the fundamental dignity of working families, shape our political future, and achieve an economically and racially just society for our communities.”
Besides labor unions such as the UAW, AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers, a number of churches are involved in the activities of Michigan United. Among them are: Christian Reform Church Office of Social Justice; Evangelical Lutheran Church of American Southeast Michigan Synod; Jewish Community Relations Council; Pax Christi; St. Catherine of Siena Church of Portage; St. Joseph Catholic Church, First United Methodist Church, and Iglesia Evangelica Misionera of Kalamazoo; San Felipe de Jesus of Fennville; Immaculate Conception Church , and Jesus El Camino of Hartford; Greater Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, Brighter Day Baptist Church, Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, and St. Christopher’s Catholic Church, and St. Gabriel’s Church of Detroit.
In an interview with Spero News, Pastor Monica Villarreal of Salem Lutheran Church in nearby Flint MI said that she had come to defend the rights of immigrants. The group accompanying Pastor Villarreal and MI-United Executive Director Bates numbered approximately twenty individuals.
While the protest was largely uneventful on July 7, a town hall meeting to be held on July 9 promises to garner more attention. The meeting will be held at the city’s high school gymnasium.