Michigan nonprofit to house hundreds of unaccompanied migrant children

Posted at 1:33 PM, Apr 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-09 13:49:06-04

(WXYZ) — An Albion nonprofit that specializes in residential programs and child behavioral health programs will house up to 240 unaccompanied migrant children from the southern border.

Related: Migrant crisis at U.S. southern border drives demand for foster homes in Michigan

Starr Commonwealth said it is opening its campus in Albion after an urgent request from the U.S. federal government.

The plan, according to Starr Commonwealth, is to house up to 240 migrant children ages 12 and younger. They will provide them with temporary shelter while it works to unite them with their family or sponsors.

“For more than a century, our campus has served as a safe haven for children in need," Starr President and CEO Elizabeth Carey said in a release. “We have again been called to open our hearts and our campus as a refuge – this time to children arriving without parents or guardians at our southern border.

There are 17 cottages that can house the children and caretakers, with a gym, cafeteria, school buildings and more.

Starr is also providing bilingual caregivers who have a background in child welfare. They expect each child to stay for 30 days or less.

All kids will be screened for COVID-19 before traveling to Michigan and screened again when they arrive.

“Our expertise in healing trauma and building resilience can truly benefit the children who will be coming to our campus,” Carey said. “Many of us have all watched the heartbreaking pictures on the nightly news of children who have been abandoned in the desert, far away from home and without their families, and wondered how we can help. Starr has safe beds, secure cottages and a campus of caring people – this is how we can, and must, help.”

When minors arrive at the border alone, they're first detained by Customers and Border Protection, according to supervising attorney Rebeca Ontiveros-Chavez with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

Once in CBP custody, the children will be assessed to determine if in fact they are deemed unaccompanied, meaning they are under 18 and not traveling with a parent or a legal guardian. Once designated unaccompanied, the children are transferred to the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) under the Department of Health and Human Services.

ORR has different subcontractors across the country to provide temporary or long-term housing for the children.

In Michigan, there are two such subcontracting agencies: Bethany Christian Servicesand Samartias.

“All of our foster homes are full that serve this program," said Michelle Haskell, who heads up community outreach for Samaritas.

Samartias is a faith-based nonprofit based in Detroit and currently houses a little more than 20 migrant children around the state. Haskell said the goal is to expand capacity to house 50 as demand for placement continues to grow.

The surge has been over the past couple of months, Haskell said.

The process of arriving at the border and then being placed elsewhere around the country is a lot for a child to process, and can be traumatic.

The goal of these agencies is to reunite the children with their families, whether that's here in the U.S. or in their home countries.

Attorneys with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center provide legal representation to the kids once they arrive here in Michigan.

Unlike in the U.S. criminal justice system, immigration matters are considered civil, which means migrants and migrant children are not automatically provided government counsel that U.S. citizens are entitled to.