Crush of migrants dropped off by ICE has Phx churches strained to breaking point – TucsonSentinel.com

TOLLESON – The number of migrants dropped off at Revolution Church in
Tolleson has nearly doubled since last December, Pastor Raul Salgado
estimates.

Migrants are being dropped off by U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement after they have applied for asylum and are waiting for their
cases to be heard. They usually stay two or three days while Salgado
and church volunteers help them find more permanent housing and a way to
get there.

At the end of November, Salgado said, a pastor of another church
asked whether Revolution Church could host an unexpected busload of
migrant families ICE had just dropped off.

“I told him yes. And that was four months ago, and we haven’t stopped since,” Salgado said.

In an email to Cronkite News, an ICE spokesman said 14,500 “family
unit members” have been processed and released in Phoenix from Dec. 21
through March 5.

It isn’t clear whether the increase is a result of changes in ICE
policies or because of the sheer number of migrants seeking asylum or
both.

“The dynamics of operational realities are ever-changing and the
agency makes adjustments as required to best serve the mission,” the
email said. “ICE wants to mitigate strains placed on resources in the
local community as we continue to see high volumes of families crossing
the border.”

Ismael Garcia Dominguez, who arrived at Revolution Church last week
from Guatemala, said he was happy the congregation opened their doors to
him. During his journey to the United States, he said Mexican
immigration officials took all his money before allowing him to cross
the border.

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Revolution Church has yet to turn anyone away, but Salgado isn’t sure how long that will be the case.

“We do it because we want to. We do it by faith, we do it because that’s what we’re called to do,” he said.

During the past four months, Salgado estimates his church alone has
hosted 2,500 to 3,500 migrants. The church depends on help and donations
from volunteers in the community, but the majority of funding comes out
of the church’s own pockets.

“It costs money to help these people,” Salgado said. “The water bill
goes up. The electric bill goes up. The expenses have increased.”

This is the case for many Arizona churches that take in migrants.
Resources are being stretched and it’s difficult for congregants to
support families on top of other costs they already have, such as rent
and utilities.

Magdalena Schwartz, president of the East Valley Christian Leaders
Alliance, has been helping migrants since 1998, beginning her work with
police department and immigrant relations. She calls the current
situation a humanitarian crisis.

She said she initially was asked to help by an ICE agent who was
concerned about the safety of migrant families being dropped off at bus
stations, especially the children.

The next day, members of her church prayed and started receiving
families, Schwartz said. She now works with about 15 other churches, but
the strain has caused many to cut back on the number of migrants they
can help, and some have stopped taking them entirely.

“A church before received 100 people; now they can receive about 50,” Schwartz said. “So where do the other 50 people go?”

She said her group has reached out to many churches to find
additional housing for these families, but most either don’t respond or
lack the resources. She also noted that when a church can’t take in any
migrants, they are dropped off at the local Greyhound station, which is a
big challenge for migrants who don’t speak the language or know U.S.
laws.

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Schwartz is in the process of asking state and local government for
assistance. She hopes the government can help them support these
migrants while they await their asylum requests to be processed.

Although resources are stretched, she has never turned anyone away.

“We made this compromise with God,” Schwartz said. “It’s about people
suffering. It’s about children suffering. It’s not about us.”