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Network of Valley churches helping asylum seekers hoping to stay in the US

Posted at 8:09 PM, Dec 03, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-04 00:45:03-05

Valley churches are seeking donations for hundreds of Central American migrants expected to be dropped off in the Phoenix metro area this week.

Almost 200 were bused in by the Department of Homeland Security on Monday to one of about a dozen churches participating in a humanitarian mission to help the families try and connect with loved ones already in the United States.

The churches are part of a network that spans across the Valley, from Chandler, to Mesa, Phoenix and Glendale.

The Monte Vista Cross Cultural Baptist church was acting as the host on Monday. Each day, a different church in the Valley takes on the mission of hosting those released from government custody.

Eduardo Duran with the Baptist church said they were acting as a hub for the families as they settled into life in America and awaited asylum hearings in federal court.

Duran said they every other day they received anywhere from 40 to 100 families at their church.

"We bring them into the church, we feed them and then we contact their families," said Duran.

It's important to note the immigrants are not in the country illegally. ICE officials tell us the family units coming in through the Arizona border are not detained by ICE.  

"This is different than the traditional immigration CBP transfer to ICE for detention. Most family migrants (head of household) will get an ankle monitoring device, normally given a notice to appear for them to show up at immigration court," stated a spokeswoman for the ICE office in Phoenix.

We noted that most of the migrants dropped off at the Phoenix church did not have on ankle monitoring bracelets. All of them did have a notice to appear in court, and all of them said they had relatives here in America.

Duran said the church would help them reach out to loved ones. The relatives would typically buy a plane or bus ticket for the migrant families to travel to whatever part of the country they were in, so they could live there until the date of their court hearing.

One of those migrants was a mother from Guatemala who arrived in the United States through Yuma. She said gang members in the country had tried to recruit her teenage son.  

When he indicated he did not want to get involved illegal activity, they faced daily death threats and extortion. This mother said she came to the U.S. to protect her family and to seek a better life.

Magdalena Schwarz, a coordinator who was helping to organize this humanitarian mission, said ICE had reached out to her to ask for help with the migrants. Schwarz said hundreds of volunteers from churches all over the Valley had been pouring their efforts into helping these families.

Right now they desperate need winter clothes, things like jackets and sweaters, and they especially needed tennis shoes for children.  

Leisa McDonald, a global outreach associate director with the Central Christian Church of Arizona, said they also needed backpacks. 

McDonald stressed their church was not trying to make any political statements by getting involved in the project. They were simply driven by their faith to help people in need.

"Most of these families don't want to be on this journey, take their children away from the communities they grew up in. People don't leave home unless there's a need to leave home," said McDonald.

Churches are also seeking families that would be willing to open up their homes to house migrant families for a day or two.

We checked in with several immigration attorneys and are told there is no legal liability to house migrants in your home, other than injuries any guest of yours may sustain. However, if you plan to let a migrant family use your address as a permanent address on paper, or are housing someone who has asked you to sign a bond agreement, attorneys say you should seek legal advice first.

Some of the churches and faith-based groups involved in this work include Central Christian Church of Arizona, Monte Vista Baptist Church, Casa de Oracion, Catholic Community Services of Arizona, and Shadow Rock United Church of Christ. There are many more but organizers ask those who would like to help to reach out to one of these churches for information.  

You can also donate cash to an account set up at Wells Fargo Bank. The account number is 5856940050.