In the last two years, 12 children, including two sets of siblings, have occupied the room upstairs with its soothing white-and-light-blue walls and twin beds with colorful bedding. All had arrived in the United States alone and remained in the family’s care for a few weeks or months until a long-term sponsor already in the country, often a relative, was identified and cleared by the authorities to receive them.
“They had access to their parents on a daily basis,” Janice said. “They talked to them on the phone. We have done video chats with Mom and Dad and siblings with every placement — except now.”
José is the first child they have hosted who crossed the border with a parent, rather than alone, then was forcibly separated and left with no ability to contact them. On his flight to Michigan were two other Central American boys in similar circumstances who were placed with families in the area.
The majority of youths apprehended at the border over the past several years have been housed in government shelters and most of them are teenagers who came alone, often expecting to join family members already in the United States. About 11,000 children are currently in these facilities, which are at 95 percent capacity, according to Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. The department has reserved an additional 1,218 beds in various places for migrant children, including some at military bases, he said.
On May 10, three days after Mr. Sessions announced the zero-tolerance policy, the government issued a call for proposals from “shelter care providers, including group homes and transitional foster care” in anticipation of a surge in children separated from their parents who would require housing.
In response, Bethany Christian Services, which is coordinating foster placements for about 100 migrant children in Michigan and Maryland, including José’s, is planning to expand to several other states. Families receive a stipend of about $400 a month to defray the costs of taking care of a child.
“We don’t want to have to ramp up,” said Chris Palusky, president of Bethany. “We would prefer these kids stay with their families; they should not be separated. But being in a loving foster home is better than being on a military base.”