2011-12-14 Fox News Flyer Sparks heated Debate

FOX 17
Flyer Sparks Heated Debate in Port Sheldon: Residents spread fear about migrant workers; accused of racism
Darren Cunningham, FOX 17 Reporter
10:25 PM EST, December 14, 2011
OTTAWA CO, Mich.

A flyer distributed around West Olive and Port Sheldon Township is stirring debate and claims of racism.

Here’s the situation: The owner of a blueberry farm wants to allow about 20 migrant workers to live and work on his farm for about 8 weeks out of the year. However, a bunch of his neighbors are saying, 'Not so fast'.

The opposition from neighbors comes after a migrant worker (from another farm), who's Hispanic, got arrested for a fight. A group circulated a flyer with his mug shot saying, “How about 20 young men like this moving into your neighborhood.”

The anonymous flyer went on to say, “It's going to happen unless we let the planning commission members know we don`t want them moving in next door to our families.”

The topic came up at Port Sheldon’s planning commission’s meeting, Wednesday night. During public comment, concerned residents said there's fear about what the workers would do if they're allowed to move in.

In a handout, the group said possible break-ins, loss in property value, and safety were among their concerns. Lila Dewilde says she lives next to the farm and opposes the plan.

“How about my daughters, am I ever going to go away on a weekend? Would you leave your blonde teenage daughters, when there's 25 single men next door,” Dewilde asked.

Roberto Jara doesn’t live near the farm but says he is the son of a former migrant worker and finds the opposition’s reasoning offensive. “Because of the color of their skin there seems to be talk that our children, our blonde daughters are not safe,” Jara said. 

“That is highly insulting. I hope and I trust as a board that you're intelligent enough to weigh this on its merits," he continued. 

Resident Kathleen O'brien said, "I don't think this ever would have been a question if this were a group of 20 white men, moving into that house. I think this is really incendiary, racially biased."

Resident Jerry Graves said he distributed the flyer and says racism wasn't intended but sticks to the aforementioned reasons.

The planning commission didn't make a decision on whether to let the migrant workers move in. They've asked the farm owner for more information, on his proposal for the workers and the property.

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