WUOMFM

Dustin Dwyer

Reporter/Producer

Dustin Dwyer is a reporter on the State of Opportunity project, based in Grand Rapids. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.

In 2010, Dustin left journalism to be a stay-at-home dad. Now that his daughter Irene is turning two, he's happy to be back at Michigan Radio, where there are far fewer temper-tantrums. 

Ways to Connect

woman speaks in front of crowd
Courtesy of Sarahi Nieves

The following is a transcript of the State of Opportunity documentary Out From the Shadows: Living Undocumented, which you can hear at 3 p.m. and 10 p.m. today.

Sarahi Nieves’ parents brought her to the U.S. when she was 7. She didn’t have papers, but she grew up here. Then she had a son, a U.S. citizen. And she had to explain what it means to be undocumented in America.

“How can you tell a four-year-old, if we don’t do this, if we don’t go through this, we might be taken apart?” she said.


Wikimedia Commons

Right now, somewhere around 11 million people are living "illegal" lives in the United States. That's close to one out of every 30 people in this country, going about their daily business under the threat of deportation. Many have lived in the United States for years, even decades. Many came to the United States at such a young age, they don't even remember life in another country. They may consider this country home, but the paperwork doesn't. The law doesn't. 

These parts you already know. 

But how did we get to this point? 

Tomorrow, we'll air our latest State of Opportunity documentary, Out From the Shadows, which follows the lives of undocumented families in Michigan. But we also spent time looking at the history of immigration law in the United States, to try to better understand how the laws have changed over time, and how so many people became excluded. 

And it's a fascinating history. 

screenshot of Abbi's Facebook post

She first went into the system when she was five years old, she says.

She bounced around, like any of the thousands of kids in Michigan who go through foster care. So she waited, like everyone else waits. Many of them wait so long, they turn 18 in foster care, and they’re never adopted. They “age out.”

But her story took a different turn. 

It was this winter. January. Abbi was 15 years old. We’re just using her first name.

She was living in a group home, thinking of another year, another birthday without a family. She talked to her therapist about it.

flickr/thibaud_saintin

Michelle Gach’s son was taken from her home nearly two years ago, when he was three year old. Police took him after he was found alone in a park across the street from the family’s home.

A judge later terminated Gach’s parental rights. These terminations happen all the time in Michigan. They create a permanent, legal separation between parents and their children. And, once the decision to terminate is made, it’s rarely reversed in Michigan.

But that’s what happened last week in Michelle Gach’s case.

flickr.com/swaity / Licenced under Creative Commons https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Today I got an update on a story we reported here in January. It's the story of Michelle Gach, a mother whose parental rights were terminated by a judge after her three-year-old-son was found wandering one morning with his dogs in a park across the street from his house. Gach told me she'd worked into the early morning that day, and her son snuck out of the house "to be a big boy" and walk the dogs while she slept. 

Not long after that incident, police removed Gach's son from her home. She was denied visits. She wasn't offered support services. 

“And they said it’s protocol for going straight for termination.” Gach told me. 

She hasn't seen her son since August 2014. Her rights were officially terminated last year. She appealed.

Yesterday, the State Court of Appeals issued its opinion in the case. The judges sided with Gach. They ruled her parental rights should never have been terminated.

And their ruling could have implications for other parents in Michigan as well. 

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

In Lansing every year, there is a day set aside as Child Abuse Prevention Awareness Day. That day was yesterday. So, on the steps of the Capitol, people got up to speak, children  from an elementary group sang and dozens of people involved in organizations that work to keep kids safe stood in the rain to show their support.

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

The tiny white ball arcs against the cold gray sky, almost too hard to see.  

"That's a good ball," says Devon Kitchen, eyes focused as the ball drops quietly on the still-soggy fairway at Lincoln Golf Club on the northern edge of Muskegon.

It’s one of those days when spring backtracks, feels more like winter. Not a great day for golfing.

But it doesn’t seem to bother Kitchen. The 17-year-old is just happy to be on the course again. He's dressed in a bright orange cap, dark gray pullover and black pants. Tiger colors. Kitchen is a student at the Muskegon Heights Public School Academy, home of the Tigers. Before Kitchen showed up at the school, the Tigers didn't have a golf team. Now they do. 

"It was a challenge," Kitchen says, "but we got here."

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

"Used to be a church right here," Jamiel Robinson says, nodding toward a storefront on South Division in Grand Rapids. 

"Yeah?" I say, eyeing the business. "Now they do tattoos. Ain’t the same at all."

"It’s not the same."

We're standing at the corner of Division and McConnell. Next to us is a gray, boarded up building Robinson’s grandfather once owned. It had a barbershop, a candy store, a pool hall and apartments upstairs. But it was old and needed repairs. In 2005, Robinson’s family sold it.

Then the building boom in the area happened.  

Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Grand Rapids is changing.

Michigan’s second-largest city is in the middle of a development boom. All around town, new buildings are going up, or old buildings are being renovated.

It’s a welcome sight for many who endured the long years of Michigan’s devastating recession.

But the new development in Grand Rapids has raised new questions about whether everyone in the city will benefit from the boom times. And, as is often the case, many of the questions revolve around racial equity.

This week and next, State of Opportunity will dive into those questions to see what’s happening, and what can be done about it.

Tracey Addison moved onto Logan Street in Grand Rapids when she was seven years old. I met here as she walked her little black dog Coco on a sunny day.

She had on a long coat and sunglasses while she pushed her walker through a neighborhood that’s starting to look a lot different from the one she moved into all those years ago.

flickr.com/hckyso

Education is one of the best ways to get ahead in America. So, why do so many young people from poor backgrounds drop out? An economic paper published this month by the Brookings Institution suggests one possible answer, and it has nothing to do with grades or test scores. Maybe, for kids who grow up poor, with evidence of inequality all around them, dropping out of school just seems like the rational choice. 

It should be the opposite. Most economists would say, kids who start out at the bottom of the economic heap should have the incentive to get as much education as possible. Many economists believe the problem really comes down to skills. Young people trying to climb up out of poverty want to be highly educated, the thinking goes. They just don't get the right skills and training along the way. In this model, the education system itself is where the problem occurs, and that's where the fix is needed.

But the new Brookings paper by economists Melissa Kearney and Philip Levine (who we previously mentioned here) suggests the problem lies elsewhere.

Pages