PHOENIX — About 80 migrants were dropped off at a Phoenix Greyhound bus station Thursday by federal officials — a departure from the pattern of delivering those migrants to local churches — as the government continues to turn thousands of migrants into the community.
This week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement brought several hundred migrants to area churches, and by Thursday, those churches said they reached capacity.
Since mid-October, about 6,000 migrants have been dropped off at a dozen churches in Phoenix, Mesa, Gilbert and Ahwatukee Foothills that are housing and feeding migrant families before they travel to their next destination.
Most migrants are gone by the next day, jumping on a Greyhound bus or a flight to reunite with family members across the country. But the churches that have been hosting people remain overloaded.
"We need new facilities, additional facilities to open their doors, whether they be churches or community centers," said Susan Whetten-Udall, the LDS Immigrant Services Volunteer Coordinator who has been helping since late October.
"What's happening now is the churches are at capacity or they're tapped out on resources," Lydia Guzman, a Phoenix activist, said. “We’re trying to get new folks, a new network of churches to open their doors and provide services.”
Guzman said she expected another 100 migrants to arrive at the bus station Friday morning.
A volunteer at Central Christian Church has created a model for other area churches and community centers to follow for hosting asylum seekers. Though the need is temporary for each family, the commitment has been ongoing in Phoenix, Tucson and briefly in Yuma where ICE has sent families.
ICE officials say the agency lacks the capacity to hold the growing wave of migrant families crossing the border daily in southwestern Arizona, which is why they have begun releasing them to local churches in Phoenix and to nonprofit groups in Tucson and, for a while, in Yuma.
An ICE official was not available to comment about Thursday's drop-off.
U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement drops migrants at Phoenix bus station.
Despite the spike in migrant families arriving at the southern border, Border Patrol apprehensions remain near the lowest levels in four decades.
“There’s not always churches ready to receive people, especially right now,” Whetten-Udall said. “Think about the exhaustion level throughout the week and all the way through the Christmas holidays. It takes a lot of resources.”
When no churches are available, Spanish-speaking volunteers meet at the Greyhound station to help coordinate the migrants' travel. On Thursday, volunteers brought pizza and bags with snacks and water bottles.
By 8 p.m., the majority of the migrants, mostly from Guatemala, had already caught a bus to their next destination, as far north as Indianapolis, as far east as Fort Myers.
Jose Perez traveled to the U.S. from Guatemala with his son Roberto, 5. At the Greyhound facility, he and his son each held plastic grocery bags filled with snacks from a volunteer.
The two crossed into the United States at Yuma and were glad to have left the federal facility.
"I was feeling really bad — they treated us like we are animals," Perez said about the guards at the facility. "It was 11 days of punishment."
Contributing: Daniel González, The Arizona Republic.