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Valley pastor pleads for help housing asylum seekers released by ICE

(KTAR News Photo/Nailea Leon)

PHOENIX – As immigration officials continue leaving busloads of asylum seekers to fend for themselves after being released from federal detention, a Valley pastor is pleading for help from local governments and churches.

“I want to see the city of Phoenix or the governor’s office … provide a building — they can provide a facility to take care of these people,” Magdalena Schwartz, a Mesa pastor who organizes a network of metro Phoenix churches that have been caring for released migrants, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Tuesday.

Schwartz spoke from outside the Greyhound bus station at Buckeye Road and 24th Street in Phoenix, where U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had just dropped off about 150 people, mostly families from Central America.

Schwartz’s network has been housing and feeding people and helping them make travel arrangements so they can stay with family members across the U.S. while awaiting asylum hearings.

Henry Lucero, the Phoenix field director for ICE, told KTAR News on Monday the federal government has no legal obligation to house migrants who have been released from overflowing detention centers.

Schwartz was hopeful all the families released Tuesday would have a roof to stay under by the end of the day.

Without assistance, they could end up living on the street.

One man dropped off with his 11-year-old son said he was seeking a better life after making a dangerous trip. They were waiting for travel to be arranged so they could stay with family in Chicago.

Another man, who left Guatemala two weeks ago, said he turned himself in to authorities as a last resort because he had no food or water.

For months, ICE has been releasing asylum seekers like those dropped off Tuesday at Valley churches and bus stations, but the situation has become overwhelming all around.

Schwartz said her network has housed more than 40,000 migrants over the past five-plus months while travel plans were being confirmed, which can take a few days.

She said as many as 15 churches have been involved, but that’s down to 10 because resources are depleted.

There have even been volunteers willing to open their homes to families, she said.

Schwartz made a plea to larger churches to either take in people or provide financial support to smaller Hispanic churches who want to help but can’t afford it.

“What’s Jesus supposed to do in this situation? Help people because they are hungry, thirsty, sick. So just be like Jesus,” she said.

In response to the situation, Greyhound has asked ICE to stop bringing people without confirmed travel plans to its stations, company spokeswoman Crystal Booker told KTAR News on Tuesday.

“The unexpected arrival of dozens of people, many with no travel arrangements, is a concern as we do not have the resources to house individuals for extended periods of time,” she said.

Greyhound policy says only travelers with tickets or reservations for that day or who are ready to purchase tickets are allowed inside stations.

“Once they are prepared to travel, we transport them safely to their chosen destinations,” Booker said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Nailea Leon and Peter Samore contributed to this report.

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