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ICE keeps dropping off busloads of migrants at Phoenix-area churches

(KTAR Photo/Nailea Leon)

PHOENIX – The steady flow of asylum seekers through Valley houses of worship continued Friday afternoon when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped off two busloads of migrants at a Phoenix church.

“If the churches don’t open the door for this humanitarian crisis we will have people in the streets, sleeping in the streets,” Magdalena Schwartz, a Mesa pastor who has been coordinating ICE drop-offs at a network of Valley churches, told KTAR News 92.3 FM before the buses arrived.

With Friday’s drop-off of around 90 people at Monte Vista Baptist Church, Schwartz said the churches she works with have taken in more than 10,000 asylum seekers released by ICE in recent months.

“ICE drops the people in the church,” she said. “We feed them. We give them a hot meal. They can take a shower.”

After arriving at Monte Vista Baptist, the men women and children from Central America hugged, cried, prayed and sang worship songs with pastors and volunteers.

“The plan is to have a lot of them leave today. We already are working on getting the tickets to leave,” Pastor Israel Camacho said.

A 37-year-old father who came from Honduras with his daughter said he came to the United States to flee death threats from gang members.

The man, who asked not to be identified because he feared for his and his daughter’s safety, said three men went looking for him at his house two days before he left Honduras.

“If I didn’t come here, I would already be dead,” he said in Spanish.

He added he had no choice but to come to the U.S. to seek safety.

“My dream is to be able to walk without the fear of a gun shooting at me,” he said.

ICE didn’t respond to a request for comment beyond an email saying the agency’s public affairs officers aren’t allowed to work during the government shutdown.

A day earlier, ICE dropped off around 50 men with children at a Phoenix Greyhound bus station because the churches were unable to take them.

“Some pastors in some churches … they wanted to take a break for a week, for two weeks, because it’s overwhelming,” Schwartz said.

It appeared the migrants would have to go to the bus station Friday, but Schwartz found a last-minute opening at Monte Vista Baptist.

“This is the result of united pastors working together for this beautiful, wonderful mission to help all these families who come from Central American,” she said.

Schwartz and her colleagues have become proficient at setting up travel plans so the released migrants can quickly make their way to the homes of relatives in the United States.

She said all the people released at the Greyhound station Thursday were on to their next destination by the end of the day.

“We have very successful coordination,” she said. “The relative buys the tickets, the same day or next day, so they don’t stay longer here in Arizona.”

Schwartz said her network is fully dependent on the community to provide the families with food, backpacks, shoes and clothing as well as cash to pay for medical supplies and other necessities.

“We are doing this mission with passion, with love and with mercy,” she said. “Also by faith because we don’t have any financial resources and we don’t have any financial resources from our government. … And God provides, every single day.”

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Griselda Zetino, Ali Vetnar and Nailea Leon contributed to this report.

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