Dustin Dwyer


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

User: geishabot / Flickr / http://j.mp/1SPGCl0

For this story, I have two hats. One is my reporter hat. The other is my dad hat.

I like the daddy hat.  

But I do still have this reporter hat over here. And I’ve been thinking a lot lately with my reporter hat about my beautiful, perfect little boy. Because, the truth is, he is at risk.

And I’ve been thinking about this risk because of what’s been in the news lately – about how men talk and act toward women. And what’s considered normal for those things.

flickr user trishhhh

If you are in an abusive situation and you need emergency shelter or transitional housing, you can search for resources in your community at domesticshelters.org.

A few years ago, I was tagging along with a social worker on a visit with one of her clients. The social worker was Joni Cook, she works with the Maternal Infant Health Program at Cherry Health in Grand Rapids. We sat in the living room, with her client, who was cradling a beautiful new baby girl.

And things seem to be going well. But then the client started telling Cook about the baby’s father. She broke down as she talked about him hitting her. She was terrified of what he might do next.  

"She felt very unsafe," Cook said to me this week. "And I remember her saying the people who are supposed to be protecting me are not protecting me."

flickr user fleshmanpix

On a brightly-lit stage inside a massive convention hall in downtown Houston, Texas, Ainslya Charlton made her introduction.

"You can call me Ace," she said, as her friends cheered. 

Out in the audience, away from the lights, were of nearly 1,000 people assembled for what was billed as the nation’s largest-ever gathering of undocumented immigrants in the U.S.

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.


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."