Nonprofits Ask Phoenix To Address "Moral Issue" Of Migrant Families

By Christina Estes, Steve Goldstein
Published: Thursday, June 6, 2019 - 8:33am
Updated: Friday, June 28, 2019 - 10:25am

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Matthew Casey/KJZZ
Newly released migrants get food from a buffet set up by aid workers on the bench of a city bus stop.

For months, federal authorities have been releasing migrant families in Phoenix and other cities. Volunteers and faith-based groups have stepped up to provide shelter, food and other services, but Sarah Eary issued a warning during Wednesday's council meeting.

“I want you to know that this coalition is collapsing under the strain,” she said. “We are losing churches every day and we are not able to replace them. And I’m telling you we are weeks away from an emergency.”

Eary coordinates the asylum seekers program for Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest. It's part of a coalition of dozens of churches and nonprofits that have been supporting migrants.

“There’s a reason we don’t see a headline that says, ‘A two-year-old child dies of dehydration in a ditch after being released by ICE in Phoenix, Arizona’”, Eary said. “And the reason is because of the good people of this community who are defying that, who are saying we will not let that happen.”

As migrants are processed and given a court date, federal authorities have been releasing them to family members or dropping them off at shelters or near bus stations.

“When a church doesn’t offer shelter, people are relegated to the ditch on 24th and Buckeye,” Eary said. “And what we’re saying is that this is not an acceptable alternative.”

That ditch she mentioned is the water retention basin next to the Greyhound bus station where authorities release some migrants as they wait for their case to make it through the system. If someone is dropped off and doesn’t have a ticket, they can’t hang out there. That worries Carolyn O’Connor, with a coalition called Uncage and Reunite Families.

It is routine for vans from immigration detention facilities to drop off released detainees at bus stations in Phoenix and Tucson.
Jude Joffe-Block/KJZZ
It is routine for vans from immigration detention facilities to drop off released detainees at bus stations in Phoenix and Tucson.

“They are forced to sit on the ground in the heat. Often, refugees that arrive are dehydrated and hungry. As the temperature continues to rise, we are concerned this is a fatality waiting to happen,” she said “This is not just a humanitarian crisis. This is a moral issue.”

O’Connor asked council members to come up with an air-conditioned facility to serve as an intake center at least through the summer. Eary also requested the city create a committee to address the issue and come up with a resource so immigration authorities don’t continue to drop off people at the bus station who have no resources to travel.

Because their requests were not related to a council agenda item, they could not be directly addressed. Both women say they will continue reaching out to city, county and state leaders.

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