Albion facility takes in first group of migrant children

Christine Ferretti
The Detroit News
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About 100 unaccompanied migrant children arrived Monday at a behavioral health campus in Albion, federal officials confirmed.

The group arrived days after Albion-based nonprofit Starr Commonwealth said it signed an agreement to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to use its 350-acre campus to help alleviate the developing humanitarian crisis at the Southern border between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Flynn Cottage at Starr Commonwealth in Albion, where up to 240 unaccompanied migrant children will be housed. The image was captured from video provided by Starr Commonwealth.

The children arrived at the site from U.S. Customs and Border Patrol facilities. The facility is expected to provide shelter for boys ages 5-17, federal officials said Monday and can house up to 240 migrant children.

"The children will be welcomed by staff, receive a medical check, and be provided needed clothing, toiletries, food and snacks, as well as a safe place to rest," the Administration for Children and Families said in a Monday news release. 

Starr Commonwealth was founded in 1913 as a home for runaway boys and since has evolved to providing community-based programming, education and behavioral health services for children.

Migrant family arrivals in the U.S. increased in 2019 when the Trump administration’s practice of generally separating parents from their children at the border ended. The latest influx follows devastating storms in Central America as well as those fleeing violence and poverty.

As of Friday, there were 16,941 children under the care of DHHS' Office of Refugee Resettlement, federal officials said. 

DHHS in recent weeks has hurried to open holding sites across the country and tried to expedite its processes for releasing children in custody.

Several hundred children and teenagers are crossing the border daily, most fleeing violence, poverty or the effects of natural disasters in Central America. President Joe Biden has declined to resume his predecessor’s practice of expelling unaccompanied children.

But Biden's administration has continued expelling adults under a coronavirus-related public health declaration enacted by former President Donald Trump. Biden also has tried to expel most families traveling together, but changes in Mexican law have forced agents to release many parents and children into the U.S.

DHHS said Monday it is "aggressively working with its interagency partners to ensure that UC (unaccompanied children) are safe and unified with family members or other suitable sponsors as quickly and safely as possible."

The Starr property will be used temporarily to care for and process children, from where they will either be released to a sponsor or transferred to an appropriate resettlement shelter for longer-term care, federal officials noted. 

Derek Allen, Starr's executive vice president and chief operating officer, said in a Friday video message that the campus includes nine ranch-style houses as well as additional two- and three-story houses, each will accommodate 12 to 15 children.

The campus also has a gymnasium, cafeteria, school buildings, chapel, ball fields, a track and a lakeside park. It also has a fully functional medical clinic. Currently, the gymnasium is set up for the intake of children that come in to ensure safe distancing amid the pandemic. 

Unaccompanied children are being tested for COVID-19 before being transported to Starr Commonwealth. While at the facility. they will undergo testing for the virus every three days. 

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also will visit the site to monitor and provide guidance on COVID-19 protocols. 

Parents trying to contact their child in DHHS care can call (800) 203-7001 or email information@ORRNCC.com. 

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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