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Immigrant families released by ICE arrive in Phoenix seeking asylum

(Photo by KTAR News' Griselda Zetino)

PHOENIX — Immigration and Customs Enforcement has started to release more than 400 asylum seekers in Arizona. A coalition of churches and organizations across Arizona began accepting immigrants on Sunday.

Close to 100 immigrants were dropped off Monday evening at Shadow Rock United Church of Christ, Pastor Ken Heintzelman said in an email message.

The church is expecting to house most of the asylum seekers through the middle of the week, until they can connect with family and friends to arrange travel elsewhere across the country, said Heintzelman.

“We have done this before, but not for this large number of guests. Sometimes we are preparing for 20-25 and no one shows up, sometimes we are preparing for 6-10 and 20-25 show up,” Liz Curry, President of the Board of Shadow Rock United Church of Christ, said.

“This is by far the largest group with even increased needs because they were given no finances to help them find their families.”

The church has a history of supporting immigrants.

In February, Shadow Rock United gave sanctuary to a man facing deportation for a third time, allowing him to remain in the U.S. with his sick child and pregnant wife.

In July, Pastor Ken Heintzelman spoke at a press conference in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix denouncing the actions of ICE separating families caught trying to cross the border.

Being in a border state, immigration is a major issue for Gov. Doug Ducey who joined KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Mac & Gaydos on Monday afternoon.

“Of course we’re communicating with the federal government, homeland security,” Ducey said. “Thank goodness for our non-profit community, the NGO’s (Non-governmental organization), the faith-based community. These are people that are going to go through the process with the federal government as they seek asylum.

“But some of these organizations are going to help them find shelter and places to live. This is part of the surge of activity that’s happened at the border.”

ICE spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe also issued a statement on the release of the families.

“After decades of inaction by Congress, the government has remained severely constrained in its ability to detain and promptly remove families that have no legal basis to remain in the United States,” O’Keefe said in the statement.

She said the organization began to release family units that are in danger of being held past time allotted based on judicial decisions interpreting the Flores Settlement Agreement.

Families typically undergo interviews confirming coordinates and final destinations throughout the country, but are not required to do so.

Due to time and resource limitations, some of the families have started to be released in Arizona before final plans could be discussed and accommodated. These families are being released to the coalition organizations.

From the budget year that ended Sept. 30, the U.S. has admitted only one-quarter of the number of refugees admitted into the country two years ago.

The 22,491 refugees allowed into the U.S. last year was the lowest number since a modern resettlement system was passed into law by Congress in 1980.

KTAR News’ Griselda Zetino contributed to this report.

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