PHOENIX — This Christmas Eve, more than one hundred immigrants are spending their first night in the United States outside of ICE custody.
The group of mostly women and children celebrated at Monte Vista Baptist Church Monday evening.
Boys and girls packed the playground as volunteers cooked a full meal and helped the adults arrange travel to relatives across the country.
"Every Monday for the last four weeks we have been receiving on Mondays only," said Angel Campos, the head pastor of the church.
Monte Vista has been accepting asylum-seeking migrants since early October. Campos said Immigration and Customs Enforcement asked them to help out so that they could release immigrants that are documented and not a threat before their next court date.
Roughly 120 asylum seekers were dropped off by ICE on Christmas Eve, after seven days in detention. Among them were Amparo and her five-year-old daughter.
"I feel peace because I was inside the detention center. Now I’m free," said Amparo, who we are not fully identifying for safety reasons.
Amparo left her teenage daughter and the entire family in Honduras. She made the month-long journey due to death threats at home.
"They said before Christmas you would be killed," she said, through a translator. "That’s why I came into the United States, to save my life and my daughter."
Pastor Campos said he sees it all too often.
"Violence from the government, violence from gang members, that’s everyone story."
Just hours before Christmas that threat of violence and the homesick feeling disappeared, if only for a moment when Santa showed up.
"There’s nothing we can do to keep them from missing their families. We try to make it a little bit easier," said Pastor Campos.
These families' journeys are far from over. This Christmas Eve they will sleep on the floor next to new toys. On Christmas though, most will have to find new temporary housing.
Amparo is taking a bus to Dallas where her court hearing is next week. She told ABC15 this Christmas that she is grateful for the hospitality and the chance to start a life in the United States of America.
"I feel happy. I say thank you to God because I am here. But I am also sad that my family is still back in Honduras and I had to leave," Amparo said.
Pastor Campos said the church is always accepting donations for the asylum-seeking migrants.
He said the network of churches helping the immigrants has grown to about a dozen across Phoenix.