GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The number of unaccompanied, undocumented children being sent to Michigan as part of a federal program is about three times the number federal officials first provided Target 8.
So far this year, nearly 60,000 undocumented, unaccompanied kids have crossed the southern U.S. border, according to U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. That’s more than twice the number of children who arrived without an adult during the last fiscal year.
The federal Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program shelters many of those children and allows them to stay in the country legally as they apply to stay here permanently. Some kids are sent to homes across the country — including here in West Michigan.
In the beginning of July, Target 8 asked for the total number of unaccompanied children sent to Michigan since the beginning of the year, when the numbers exploded, and was initially told the federal government didn’t have those numbers.
Several days and email exchanges later, Target 8 was finally told that 92 unaccompanied children had been “discharged” to sponsors in Michigan over the last six months.
But then Target 8 got a tip the number was higher. And records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from the Kent County Health Department revealed a much different figure.
This year, 320 kids from Bethany Christian Services have been sent for vaccinations. Records show 89% of them identified themselves as Hispanic.
The health department asks that children be vaccinated within 30 days of arriving in the country, and definitely before attending school.
The health department started keeping track of the number of vaccinations it provides for unaccompanied, undocumented children in September 2013 for billing purposes. Funded by the federal government, each vaccination costs an average of $64.
Three hundred twenty is more than triple the number the federal government initially said and has listed on its website as being sent to Michigan this year.
Target 8 reached out to the federal government several times, trying to determine the cause of the apparent discrepancy. But as has happened many times in gathering information for this story, the information was difficult to come by.
Phone call after phone call was unreturned or unhelpful. And Target 8 couldn’t even leave a message for the spokesperson from the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families — the one man authorized to talk about the issue — because his voicemail was full.
He did email back about five and half hours after the initial communication, only reiterating the same figure of 92 he had previously stated.
It’s always difficult to get information from the federal government about the program. Some of the secrecy, Target 8 has been told, is for the children’s privacy and safety. In some cases, the children are running from something or someone.
Target 8 has been anecdotally told that the number of unaccompanied undocumented children coming to West Michigan is increasing.