This week is Welcoming Week, an important time to reflect on how we can make our country, state and communities more welcoming to people seeking safety and opportunity.
We need to face reality—our country has shifted towards being unwelcoming. And the effects have been disastrous.
While there may be less media attention now, the children who were separated at the border from their parents, aunts, uncles, siblings and other relatives continue to live through the impacts of our national policy decisions every day. These forced separations were traumatic, with children as young as four months old sent to our state to live for extended periods while their parents were imprisoned hundreds of miles away.
The effects of these inhumane policies were immediately felt by both parents and children and last beyond reunification. Organizations and advocates have been working hard connecting these children to services, providing legal representation and offering a welcoming environment amidst a hostile immigration system.
Kids Count in Michigan advocates with our partners for all children, which is why we wanted to find out about the conditions these children face in our state – and how we could be doing better for the estimated 300,000 kids in immigrant families living in Michigan.
We talked to staff members Camila Trefftz and Eva Alvarez at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which provides on the ground support for these children and their families, to get an update on the children who were separated now living in Michigan and what we can do to make our state a better place for all kids.
Q. (Kids Count in Michigan). What is currently being done to track children separated from their families at the border in Michigan?
A. (Michigan Immigrant Rights Center). In Michigan, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) meets with every child in federal foster care. We learn of a separation through some combination of: government information about separation, information shared by the local ORR contractor; interviews and legal screening conducted by MIRC staff with each child; follow up legal screenings conducted by MIRC staff with parents, other family members, potential sponsors, etc.; and communication with class counsel in the ACLU’s national Ms.L v. ICE case, which occasionally receives lists of separations from the government.
Q. Do we know how many children in Michigan were separated at the border from their families?
A. It’s very difficult to count because there isn’t a clear legal definition of what it means to be separated. More than 100 kids were brought to Michigan after being separated from their parents between August 2017 and August 2019. The number skyrockets if you include separation from other relatives and caregivers.
Q. How do you all proceed when working with a child who has been separated from their family?
A. Once we know a child has been separated from their parent, or if there is confusing/conflicting information that requires more investigation, we enter representation with that child to ensure that their rights to reunification are being met. We track those children and their cases internally to ensure that every possible effort is made to reconnect children and their families as soon as possible.
Q. What are you all asking the State to do?
A. As for what the State can do, The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center together with the ACLU of Michigan has asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to create a State Immigrant Child Welfare Ombudsperson. This role would be responsible for ensuring the welfare of all immigrant children in Michigan- even those in Federal custody. Currently, all oversight of ORR contractor programs like Bethany Christian Services and Samaritas happens at the federal level, but while these children are living in Michigan it is the responsibility of the State to monitor and ensure their well being.
Q. What other ways are kids in immigrant families under threat?
A. Public Charge: In August 2019, the federal Administration published a change to the definition of public charge that would force lawfully-present immigrants to choose between basic services, like health care and food stamps, or keeping their family together in the US. What this means is that the federal government will decide who can become a green card holder based on public benefits utilized along with other factors, like health, family size, education, and English proficiency. This rule is not about making immigrants self-sufficient. It is to prevent many immigrants, who have built this country, from becoming legal permanent residents. It is part of a series of attacks on all immigrant communities and their children here.
Housing Rule: The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposed a rule in May 2019 that would disqualify families from living in public housing or receiving Section 8 housing vouchers if they have an undocumented person living with them. This proposed rule could affect 25,000 mixed-status families many have children.
Nearly all of the children in mixed-status families who are receiving HUD assistance covered by Section 214 are U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPR) who live with parents or other adults who do not have eligible immigration status. HUD’s statistics show that 70% of families are composed of eligible children and ineligible parents. There are over 38,000 U.S. citizen and otherwise eligible children in these families, and over 55,000 eligible children in mixed-status families overall.
It is likely that these families will forgo the subsidies to avoid separation. In fact, HUD is banking on this, noting in their regulatory impact analysis that “HUD expects that fear of the family being separated would lead to prompt evacuation by most mixed households, whether that fear is justified.” Therefore, this rule would effectively evict as many as 108,000 individuals in mixed-status families (in which nearly 3 out of 4 are eligible for assistance) from public housing, Section 8, and other programs covered by the proposed rule. These mass evictions and departures from housing assistance will cause increased rates of homelessness and unstable housing among an already vulnerable population.
Please join the League, Kids Count in Michigan, MIRC and many others in raising our voices to make our country, state and communities more welcoming for immigrant kids and their families. Educate yourself and community on the public charge and housing rules, write to your legislators and join us in advocating for more inclusive policies.