GR agency working to reunite families separated at border

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A foster care program spent the past few months helping dozens of children forced from their family find nurturing homes in West Michigan.

Bethany Christian Services provides foster families to migrant children while their staff also tries to track down where their parents are.

“It’s complicated,” said Hannah Mills, program supervisor of the agency’s transitional foster care program. “There’s a lot of emotions involved in it.”

Mills spoke to 24 Hour News 8 about 15 minutes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order allowing detained families to stay together.

For her, it’s progress, but not the ultimate fix.

“I do think a child should be with their parent, however, I do not think that family detention is an alternative for family separations. There are other options. There are other affordable and successful options that we could pursue,” she said.

Staff members at Bethany Christian have worked various hours to meet the need after seeing an increase in children after the “zero tolerance” immigration policy first took effect.

“Due to the number of children coming in and being kind of backlogged, they’re coming at any time that they can get a flight,” Mills told 24 Hour News 8. “Most often, I think a majority of our flights are arriving between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m.”

Mills explained that federal law requires children be placed into a child-friendly facility within 72 hours of being detained at the border.

U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration officials use a database which alerts agencies, like Bethany Christian Services, when a child needs care. The database shares the child’s name, country of origin, and parent contact information when available.

From there, it’s a race to find willing families in West Michigan who can help.

Mills said the entire process is emotionally draining for the kids.

“That means that at 2 o’clock in the morning we’re doing assessments with clients that are 3 years old at the airport when they’re inconsolable and crying and we’re trying to reach parents in order to make them feel safe. Yeah, it’s really difficult,” she said.

A contracted agency flies with the children to Chicago or Grand Rapids airports. They immediately do their intake process and questions at the airport before taking children to their foster family.

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