Churches tar­geted by Pa­triot Move­ment AZ

Pas­tors protested af­ter of­fer­ing aid to mi­grants

The Arizona Republic - - Front Page - Daniel Gon­za­lez NICK OZA/THE REPUB­LIC

Sev­eral weeks ago, Phoenix pas­tor Agustin Hu­bert agreed to join more than a dozen other lo­cal churches al­low­ing fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties to drop off bus­loads of mi­grant fam­i­lies that have over­whelmed the gov­ern­ment’s ca­pac­ity to hold them.

Hu­bert saw the ar­range­ment as a way to help the gov­ern­ment cope with the ris­ing num­bers of mi­grant fam­i­lies ar­riv­ing at the south­ern bor­der seek­ing asy­lum in the U.S., which Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has char­ac­ter­ized as a na­tional emer­gency.

It also ful­filled the church’s Chris­tian mis­sion of pro­vid­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to peo­ple in need.

But now the pas­tor is con­sid­er­ing no longer ac­cept­ing mi­grant fam­i­lies af­ter the church was tar­geted by mem­bers of Pa­triot Move­ment AZ, mak­ing Hu­bert fear­ful for the mi­grant fam­i­lies and his own con­gre­ga­tion.

The small but vo­cal right-wing group over the past two weeks has protested

out­side sev­eral churches pro­vid­ing tem­po­rary shel­ter, meals and cloth­ing to mi­grant fam­i­lies un­til they can ar­range trans­porta­tion to rel­a­tives and spon­sors all over the United States.

Vol­un­teers have called po­lice mul­ti­ple times af­ter they said the pro­test­ers tres­passed on church prop­erty.

A video clip posted by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter showed mem­bers of the group protest­ing at a church in Phoenix on Satur­day, dur­ing which one protester with a red beard and a gun hol­stered on his hip claims to have been kicked off the prop­erty af­ter he “busted right through the door” of the church.

Phoenix po­lice have made no ar­rests re­lated to the protests, said Sgt. Ar­mando Car­ba­jal, a depart­ment spokesman.

He said po­lice are in­ves­ti­gat­ing a com­plaint by one protester who claims to have been as­saulted by a vol­un­teer on Dec. 28 at a church in Phoenix. Po­lice re­sponded to the church af­ter some­one called 911 to re­port a fight. Car­ba­jal said there were no ar­rests, and no in­juries, but a re­port was taken.

The protests at lo­cal churches show some of the ris­ing ten­sions as U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment con­tin­ues to re­lease large num­bers of mi­grant fam­i­lies.

The mass fam­ily re­leases are hap­pen­ing de­spite the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s an­nounce­ment in De­cem­ber that, un­der a new pol­icy, mi­grants seek­ing asy­lum in the U.S. will be sent to Mex­ico to wait un­til their case is fi­nal­ized.

A par­tial shut­down of the gov­ern­ment has dragged on for nearly three weeks over a dis­pute be­tween Democrats and Trump over fund­ing for a bor­der wall.

Trump has threat­ened to de­clare a na­tional emer­gency un­less Congress ap­proves $5 bil­lion to fund a bor­der wall, in part to stem the flow of mi­grants re­quest­ing asy­lum at the south­ern bor­der, who Trump says mostly don’t qual­ify but are com­ing be­cause they know they will be re­leased un­der what he calls “loop­holes” in the na­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion laws.

More than 12,000 men, women and chil­dren trav­el­ing as fam­i­lies have been re­leased at lo­cal churches in Phoenix since Oc­to­ber, ac­cord­ing to Mag­dalena Schwartz, a Mesa pas­tor co­or­di­nat­ing with ICE to re­lease fam­i­lies at lo­cal churches as an al­ter­na­tive to re­leas­ing them at the bus sta­tion.

Most of the fam­i­lies be­ing re­leased by ICE in the Phoenix area are from Guatemala, but some also come from El Sal­vador, Hon­duras and other coun­tries with high lev­els of poverty and gang vi­o­lence. ICE has been re­leas­ing mi­grant fam­i­lies in other cities near the bor­der, in­clud­ing Tuc­son, El Paso, Texas, and some cities in Cal­i­for­nia.

On Wed­nes­day, two mem­bers of the Pa­triot Move­ment AZ group showed up at Hu­bert’s north-cen­tral Phoenix church just as a U.S. Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity bus was ar­riv­ing to drop off about a dozen mi­grant fam­i­lies.

On video that the two Pa­triot Move­ment AZ mem­bers posted live on Face­book and YouTube, they can be heard shout­ing, “Go home” and “Fuera de aqui,” as about two dozen men and women trav­el­ing with chil­dren walked off the bus into the church.

“Who is clean­ing their feet? That is what I want to know,” one of the pro­test­ers shouts.

At one point, the video shows two Phoenix po­lice of­fi­cers ask­ing the Pa­triot Move­ment AZ mem­bers to move off the church park­ing lot, where they had been shout­ing and shoot­ing video.

The Pa­triot Move­ment AZ mem­bers also posted the name of the church and the ad­dress.

The church’s tele­phone sys­tem was

im­me­di­ately flooded with an­gry calls.

“Shame on you for bring­ing il­le­gals into the coun­try and I hope they ar­rest ev­ery­one at your church and throw the whole bunch of you out of the United States,” one caller said.

An­other caller said: “I’m an Amer­i­can tax-pay­ing U.S. mil­i­tary fam­ily. I de­mand you stop bus­ing in these il­le­gal aliens. Now.”

Hu­bert was vis­i­bly shaken af­ter lis­ten­ing to the calls, which he played for the first time in the pres­ence of a re­porter and pho­tog­ra­pher from The Ari­zona Repub­lic.

“How are we do­ing some­thing il­le­gal if the gov­ern­ment is ask­ing us to help them?” Hu­bert said. “They should protest the gov­ern­ment . ... These are peo­ple who were al­ready let in. They were al­ready screened. They are al­ready un­der the sys­tem. We are just help­ing them and help­ing the gov­ern­ment.”

Wed­nes­day was the fifth time ICE had dropped off fam­i­lies at his church but the first time pro­test­ers had shown up.

Hu­bert said he is now wor­ried about the safety of the mi­grant fam­i­lies be­ing dropped off at his church as well as the vol­un­teers pro­vid­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance. As a re­sult, he is re­think­ing whether he will al­low ICE to drop off fam­i­lies in the fu­ture.

“I’m not Martin Luther King,” Hu­bert said. “I wish I was, but I’m not. I’ve got all these peo­ple to think about. I would feel re­spon­si­ble if any­thing hap­pened to them.”

In an in­ter­view, the two Pa­triot Move­ment AZ mem­bers who protested on Wed­nes­day out­side Hu­bert’s church, Lesa An­tone and Jennifer Har­ri­son, said they are con­cerned that by of­fer­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance to mi­grant fam­i­lies be­ing re­leased by ICE, they are en­cour­ag­ing more to come, even when they don’t qual­ify for asy­lum.

“Our con­cern is that these churches are aid­ing and abet­ting hu­man traf­fick­ing,” Har­ri­son said. “What we’ve wit­nessed is bus­loads of peo­ple be­ing dropped off at these churches that have il­le­gally en­tered our coun­try, screamed asy­lum, are de­tained and then re­leased into the com­mu­nity. They are pro­vid­ing a free ride and they are in­cen­tiviz­ing more peo­ple to come across that bor­der il­le­gally be­cause they know the church will get them from A to B.”

ICE of­fi­cials fur­loughed due to the gov­ern­ment shut­down could not be reached for com­ment.

But in the past, ICE of­fi­cials have re­leased state­ments say­ing the agency has been forced to re­lease groups of mi­grant fam­i­lies. The rea­son is be­cause the agency does not have the ca­pac­ity to hold the large num­bers ar­riv­ing and also be­cause a court rul­ing known as the Flores Set­tle­ment pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from hold­ing mi­grant fam­i­lies.

“To mit­i­gate the risk of hold­ing fam­ily units (FAMU) past the time­frame al­lot­ted to the gov­ern­ment, U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment (ICE) de­cides, on a case-by-case ba­sis, whether FAMUs will be de­tained pend­ing im­mi­gra­tion pro­ceed­ings,” the ICE state­ment said.

Rosario, a 35-year-old mi­grant from Chi­a­pas, Mex­ico, walked off the DHS bus on Wed­nes­day as Pa­triot Move­ment AZ pro­test­ers shouted for them to go home.

Rosario, who de­clined to give her last name, said she came to the U.S with her two daugh­ters, ages 13 and 11, be­cause chil­dren in the moun­tains where she is from have been tar­geted by or­gan traf­fick­ers.

“They of­fer them candy and money,” she said. “Then they kid­nap them and kill them and steal their or­gans. This is hap­pen­ing in my town.”

Po­lice in Mex­ico have ar­rested crim­i­nal car­tel mem­bers in the past sus­pected of kid­nap­ping chil­dren and har­vest­ing their or­gans.

Phoenix church pas­tors help Cen­tral Amer­i­can mi­grants who were dropped off by U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. The mi­grants re­ceive food and med­i­cal help be­fore be­ing re­united with their fam­i­lies.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.