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Michigan foster care applications surge in wake of immigration crisis

Updated: Aug 8, 2018

Kristen Jordan Shamus, Detroit Free Press

It started with a phone call. 

Randi Fremuth was so heartbroken by the stories of children being separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexico border in late June, she dialed Bethany Christian Services

The 33-year-old mother of three from Chelsea was powerless to intervene in the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy in every way but one: She could open her home. She could care for a child for as long as it took to reunite that child with his or her parents. 

"They’ve been torn from their families," she said. "They’ve been traumatized. But I feel like if we can at least take some of the sting or the burn out of it and lessen that trauma in any way, we have to.

"The decision was kind of obvious. At the end of the day, that’s just what is right. So that’s what we were going to do."

It's how Fremuth became one of 1,263 people to reach out that month to Bethany Christian Services, the only Michigan agency with a federal contract to care for children enmeshed in the family separation immigration crisis.

MISSION, TX - JUNE 12: A boy and father from Honduras are taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol agents near the U.S.-Mexico Border on June 12, 2018 near Mission, Texas. The asylum seekers were then sent to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) processing center for possible separation. U.S. border authorities are executing the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy towards undocumented immigrants. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also said that domestic and gang violence in immigrants' country of origin would no longer qualify them for political asylum status. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) (Photo: John Moore, Getty Images)

That's a huge increase in inquiries about foster care — roughly 3,846.9% —  compared to each of the previous five months, when an average of 32 people contacted the agency.

"All of these people were interested in fostering separated children," said Morgan Greenberg, a spokeswoman for Grand Rapids-based Bethany Christian in an email to the Free Press.

Several other foster care agencies around the state reported a higher-than-normal number of calls and emails from concerned families eager to foster children in June, at the height of the crisis. 

"The whole time span of that situation was 10 to 15 days," said Michelle Haskell from Samaritas, which also runs a program for refugee children. "In that time, we had 400 people call or email us. For some perspective, our average is about 10 to 20 a month, so that was pretty huge."

It's a 2,567% increase.

Wellspring Lutheran Services and the Ennis Center for Children told the Free Press they, too, saw upticks in inquiries from families interested in providing foster care.  

Hoping to help

For Fremuth and her husband, Aaron Fremuth, becoming foster parents to an immigrant child during the crisis made sense.

"If the tables were flipped and my family and I were in trouble, ... and I went somewhere thinking I would be safer there and my children were taken away, ... at the very least, the only thing that would make that situation better would be to know that my kids were with a loving family," Randi Freemuth said. "That they were together, that they weren’t in a shelter somewhere or a detention center. They were in a home."

But Fremuths weren't a fit to foster a child through Bethany because they live in Chelsea, which is out of Bethany's service area, Fremuth said. 

So she called Samaritas and enrolled in the agency's orientation program, learning about the hundreds of other refugee children in Michigan who need safe homes. 

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