PHOENIX — Since it first opened its door this past summer--over 1,000 asylum seekers have come through the Migrant Welcome Center in central Phoenix.
"This is for younger kids; it's a play area. We have a jungle gym and books for kids," says International Rescue Committee Community Engagement Coordinator Stanford Prescott.
When it initially opened its doors, the center, which houses migrants for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours, was designed to take care of the asylum seekers who were spilling onto the city streets as they were dropped off at the Greyhound bus station by customs enforcement after they entered the U.S.
"We have the means and the capacity," said Prescott.
Since July, the center has grown. Initially the capacity was 70 people and now it can house up to 275. But the center isn't getting full; the week before Christmas there were 91 refugees at the center. Many of them are now having to wait in Mexico before their asylum case is processed.
"It's important to remember that regardless of the political decision that are made, people who are fleeing violence in their home countries and are seeking asylum here in the us are first and foremost people," adds Prescott.
Prescott says those seeking asylum are not only from Central and South America--about half are from Mexico.
"As long as there is violence and percussion in our world there will be refugees and asylum seekers," says Prescott.
Many of the cots set up at the center remain unused; meantime, across the border, Stanford says those who have made the pilgrimage fleeing violence remain in harms way.
"They are vulnerable folks and remain in an area where there is still significant gang violence and physical and sexual assault. For me personally it's about helping our neighbors, our friends, helping fellow human beings."