GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- The executive order regarding the administration's zero tolerance policy will not keep immigrant families together for longer than 20 days, if at all, if they are detained. The current immigration policy presents more questions than answers to the fate of children separated from their parents, including dozens now in Michigan foster care.
The 1997 federal Flores settlement requires the government to release minors from detention within 20 days to the "least restrictive setting available," like their closest available family member or foster care thousands of miles from their parents.
"It’s going to be a very long, hard journey to get these kids in a place where they’re with their families again, and it’s scary," said Meghan Moore, immigration attorney practicing with Avanti Law Group, PLLC in Wyoming.
Moore represented immigrant children separated from their parents as young as six-years-old in recent years. She’s one of many who says detention is not necessary for families legally seeking asylum, or for families illegally crossing the border committing a misdemeanor.
"Even if the federal government decides to prosecute illegal entrance, detention is still not necessary," said Moore. "There are alternatives to detention, which have proven to be very successful, and those would include potentially an ankle bracelet with GPS monitoring."
Dr. Agustin Arbulu directs the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and tells FOX 17 private foster care agencies in Michigan are accepting children separated from their parents as young as three-months-old. He said from one year ago to the present, the average age of children in transitional foster care statewide decreased from 12 to seven-years-old.
"Children that do come into Michigan, are their rights being protected?" asked Dr. Arbulu. "Is their care being provided? Are we doing everything we can to make it as comfortable as it can be for these children? And are we making every effort to reconnect them with their parents? And that I see happening, but it could be better."
Protests continued Thursday, including along the sidewalks of 207 Fulton St. E outside Samaritas. Spokespeople for the Lutheran agency told FOX 17 in May they reunited one child with their family after fostering that child, but they are not currently fostering separated children. Samaritas proposed fostering up to 60 separated children to the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, but will learn if they are permitted to do so by mid-July.
"We have children who’ve already been separated, who are being sent that need care, need people with trauma training, need people that know refugees," said Christy Dam, a former foster parent not affiliated with Samaritas.
Others like protestor Martha Cooper say they are furious, and believe the administration is using children as political pawns.
"[Children] are being used as political hostages," said Cooper. "They have no reason to be separated. They are criminalizing people to keep them out of the country when they are fleeing for their lives."
Numbers remain unclear of how many children, either traveling alone or torn from their families while crossing the border, are now in Michigan. Dr. Arbulu believes 54 children in statewide foster care were separated from their parents and the southern U.S. border, while Bethany Christian Services' officials said 81 children were either separated from their parents or traveling alone when they crossed the border recently.
As of Thursday, Dr. Arbulu says the MDCR has not received complaints regarding the treatment of separated children in Michigan foster care.