For the first time in Michigan’s history as a receiving state for unaccompanied children, an Emergency Intake Site (EIS) was located in the state beginning in late Spring 2021 (more about the opening here). EIS facilities are considered in the unaccompanied children framework as a resource for temporary shelter when an unusually high number of children overwhelms system resources. In other states where EIS operations have been more commonplace, advocates have identified concerns about the conditions in which children are being housed. Accordingly, MIRC engaged with the goal of securing proper care in the least restrictive environment possible, as well as providing high quality legal services, for the children that would pass through Michigan’s EIS. Against the backdrop of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, MIRC bore witness to the experiences of a large population of Central American children, and later approximately 200 Afghan children who were fleeing violence. During the early days of 2022, the EIS became inactive, and MIRC is not aware of plans to place children at the site at this time.
Over a roughly seven-month period, MIRC staff proudly served 790 unaccompanied children at the EIS located in Albion, MI. MIRC staff provided know-your-rights presentations in the children’s best language. Afterward, children were provided with in-depth legal screenings whenever possible, given their rapid discharge and the constraints posed by the pandemic. The MIRC team continues to follow up with the youth to ensure that they are connected to legal services in the states where they have since relocated to live with family. A small number of youth ended up being relocated within Michigan, and MIRC continues to provide them with zealous advocacy. On several occasions during the period of EIS activity, MIRC staff advocated for improved conditions of detention, successfully securing improved access to communications with family members abroad and culturally appropriate meals. MIRC’s team continues to encourage stakeholders to adopt trauma-informed approaches to improve children’s experiences in federal custody. We remain ready to serve additional children should the EIS in Michigan become temporarily needed again.
As we reflect back on one year since the opening of Michigan’s first EIS and the widespread use of emergency intake sites across the country, we join with national partners in encouraging the federal administration to avoid the use of emergency intake sites and instead establish a border management system that prioritizes expedited release of children to appropriate caregivers or placement in small, licensed facilities in community-based settings. We need a sustainable system that anticipates the predictable fluctuations in numbers of children seeking protection and welcomes them in environments that meet child welfare guidelines and support their long term wellbeing.