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Valley church network has helped over 4,000 migrants released by ICE

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PHOENIX — More than 4,000 Central American migrants seeking asylum have been released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to a network of at least 11 churches across the Valley since mid-October.

The churches are located in Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert and Phoenix.

Magdalena Schwartz, a pastor in Mesa who has been coordinating the drop-offs, said she was first contacted by ICE on Oct. 12 about finding a church that could house 11 migrants.

A day after the first group arrived, she agreed to help with another 40 migrants.

“From that day, we have been receiving groups of one hundred and one hundred fifty people,” she said. “In total, we already helped more than 4,000 people.”

Schwartz said ICE takes the asylum seekers – which mainly include parents with children – to the churches in buses, and they typically stay there for several days. They are released with ankle monitoring bracelets and paperwork letting them know the next steps they need to take in the asylum process.

“We feed them. We cloth them, and we start calling their relatives so they can buy them plane or bus tickets,” Schwartz said, adding that none of the migrants were part of the caravan of Central Americans that have been arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico.

An ICE representative told KTAR News 92.3 FM at least four dozen migrants were dropped off at a Phoenix Greyhound bus station this week after nonprofit groups were not able to receive them in a timely manner.

The agency did not say how many migrants have been released to Valley churches but did say ICE will continue working with non-governmental organizations that can take in migrants.

Schwartz said parents have told her they are fleeing Central America to try to keep their children from being recruited or kidnapped by gang members.

She said they will keep taking in migrants but added it’s becoming “overwhelming and we need more help.” She said their efforts have been funded by donations, and they have not received any government assistance.

“We need more generous people to help us,” she said. “They can donate money, they can donate food. They can donate a lot of things, like backpacks.”

The churches helping migrants include Nueva Esperanza in Mesa and Monte Vista Baptist Church in Phoenix. You can contact the churches if you’d like to help or make a donation.

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