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Critics blast migrant housing plan at Ottawa County farm

AP Wire • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:16 AM

Migrant labor is common up and down West Michigan, where growers raise fruit and vegetables, but their presence is not always favored.

Blueberry farmer Carl Nelson wants to remodel a home for workers on his property in Port Sheldon Township. The Holland Sentinel reported it would have six bedrooms and three bathrooms, and be large enough for 20 people under state regulations.

More than 50 people attended a three-hour meeting Wednesday night of the Port Sheldon Township Planning Commission, a body that rarely attracts a large crowd. Commissioners postponed any action Wednesday on Nelson’s request.

“Would you leave your blonde, teenage girls home alone when there are 25 single men (living) next door?” resident Lila DeWilde asked the commission. “I’m horrified. I don’t care who these people are. I don’t want 25 single, unsupervised men living next door to me.”

Bert Jara of Latin Americans United for Progress urged commissioners to ignore “hysteria and bigotry.”

“Personally, I’m insulted as a Hispanic-American,” Jara said. “I very much doubt we’d be having this discussion if these were white migrant workers from Canada.”

Fliers have been turning up anonymously with a news story about a migrant worker who got a 93-day jail sentence for fighting at a West Olive migrant camp.

“How about 20 young men like this moving into your neighborhood,” the flier states.

Another blueberry farmer, Steve Kamphuis, said he’s never had problems with his migrant camp.

“Migrant workers get a bad rap,” he said. “Without the migrant labor force, my business would cease to exist.”

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