Jun 10, 2024 - News

Where migrant kids end up in Michigan

Hexbin map showing places in the U.S. that have received at least 100 unaccompanied child migrants from January 2015 from May 2023. The areas that have received the most unaccompanied migrant children are in east Texas (especially Houston, which has received at least 32,000), south Florida, California and the Northeast. Alaska, Hawai'i and states in the Great Plains have seen the fewest.
Data: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via N.Y. Times; Note: Includes places that have received at least 100 unaccompanied migrant children; Map: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Most unaccompanied migrant children who came to Michigan between 2015 and 2023 typically arrived via the southern border from Central America and ended up near Grand Rapids or Detroit.

  • That's based on U.S. Department of Human Health and Services data on migrant children sponsors' ZIP codes obtained by the New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Why it matters: Hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied kids are in the U.S. and looking to local, state and federal officials for help and protection.

The big picture: Unaccompanied migrant children are an especially vulnerable group as federal, state and city leaders spar over sheltering and supporting foreigners who have crossed the border without permission.

  • "Migrant children, who have been coming into the United States without their parents in record numbers, are ending up in some of the most punishing jobs in the country," per a Times investigation.
  • "This shadow workforce extends across industries in every state, flouting child labor laws that have been in place for nearly a century."
Bar chart showing the number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Detroit from January 2015 to May 2023, by country of origin. At least 674 unaccompanied child migrants arrived in the city during that time period, with 46% from Guatemala and 40% from Honduras.
Data: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services via New York Times; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

By the numbers: Since 2015, nearly as many migrant children are sponsored by families near Grand Rapids as there have been in Detroit. ZIP codes near Ypsilanti, Pontiac and Wyoming also make the list of places that have received at least 100 unaccompanied migrant children. They have come mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

  • There were 2,437 refugees who wound up in Michigan in fiscal year 2023, more than double the figure from 2022, data from the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration shows.
  • In recent years, more have come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan than Central American countries.
  • There are 26,000 pending immigration cases from recent arrivals across Michigan as of June 5, according to co-chair of Detroit's Immigration Task Force, Christine Sauvé, a spokesperson for the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which provides legal services to children coming through federal custody.

What they're saying: "We haven't seen the numbers Chicago has seen but our shelters have been full consistently and we have advocated with the city to get more shelter beds open," Sauvé tells Axios. "The stories we hear are traumatizing. It's amazing that these young people get through it; their resilience is astounding."

  • Children coming to the southern border are typically flown and placed in federally contracted facilities or short-term foster care facilities run by local nonprofits.
  • "When a lot of unaccompanied Afghan children were arriving, we had a huge placement of those kids in west Michigan because there was staff at the facility that were familiar with the culture who could accommodate them," Sauvé says. "But that's changed. Most children are coming from the southern border and a lot of those federally contracted facilities are contracted in west Michigan where you'll see a lot of Spanish speakers."

Between the lines: Americans are increasingly skeptical of outsiders, a recent Axios Harris Poll survey found, "partly based on misconceptions about immigrants committing crimes and seeking welfare benefits, both of which are largely untrue," as Axios' Russell Contreras has reported.

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