PHOENIX — Large Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) buses rolled through the parking lot at Monte Vista Baptist Church weekly almost all of 2019.
The year prior, there were times the buses dropped off Central American asylum-seekers a few days a week. Pastor Angel Campos remembers the October 2018 night he watched the news and learned the federal government was calling on churches to help.
"I made a call on a Sunday and had the first 75 migrants on Tuesday," he said.
Pastor Campos said he never expected anything in return when he volunteered to take them in. For thousands of migrants, Monte Vista Baptist became their first stop for food, clean clothing, and shelter in the U.S. before they fanned out to stay with friends or family.
The small church on 36th Street near Thomas Road is usually only open on Sundays. From October 2018 through 2019, there was activity there around the clock many days. Utility bills soared into the thousands.
Pastor Campos said it all caught up with them at the end of the year. There wasn't enough money to pay his December salary. A national Baptist group paid his rent and utilities at his personal apartment for the month.
"We need to fix the church carpet," he said. "The classrooms became hotels. They're all torn."
Over the summer, the government released federal aid to reimburse churches and other non-profits in border states.
A $30-million fund was set aside to assist border state communities that helped with the influx of southern border migrants released from Department of Homeland Security custody. Groups applying had to provide care for migrants between January 1, 2019, and September 30, 2020. Campos didn't know if his church would be approved, but he applied.
By October, FEMA announced it was awarding Monte Vista close to $60,000. But when it came to collecting, he said the proof he supplied didn't seem to satisfy the government's requirements. The government wanted invoices from their expenses.
"When you're responding to a crisis, I take out the church credit card and get the statement, that's my invoice. They don't want to receive it," he said.
After it was publicized the church was awarded the money, Campos said donations started to dry up. Many donors thought their expenses were taken care of, though they hadn't seen a dime of the aid.
ABC15 reached out to FEMA on Monday to ask where the money is and if the church can still expect to receive it. After numerous correspondences over the past three days, late Wednesday morning FEMA spokesperson Alex Bruner sent an email reading:
"The funds awarded in the amount of $59,504.01 have been approved by the National Board for release to Monte Vista Baptist Church and Monte Vista Cross-Cultural Church. The funds should be in the church's bank account shortly."
Pastor Campos said he was thrilled by news. He had considered not pursuing it until someone told him to contact ABC15.
"I said, 'no, I don't want to make any more dust of this.' But thank you for coming," he said.