Chandler church extends helping hand to refugees - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler church extends helping hand to refugees

August 1st, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler church extends helping hand to refugees

By Ken Sain
Managing Editor

For some refugees coming to the United States for a better life, a Chandler church is one of the first steps on that journey.

The Grove, 2777 S. Gilbert Road, is one of five East Valley churches that host a welcome center for refugees seeking asylum. It is their first stop after turning themselves in at the Southern border and spending time in detention centers.

“We give them welcome, because they don’t know where they’re going, and they’re scared,” said Magdalena Schwartz, pastor of Vineyard Church in Gilbert.

The refugees are not in this country illegally. Because they have asked for asylum, they are free to move about in America pending the outcome of a hearing on their request.

Schwartz has been organizing the East Valley effort to help refugees settle in the U.S. since 2018. “They think, ‘Oh, we’re going to another detention center … then they get surprised when they get here. And we give them welcome.”

Earlier this month, 114 refugees, including more than 20 children, arrived at The Grove to begin their journey to wherever they will be staying as they await their court date for their asylum applications.

It was the largest group to arrive in Chandler since the church started hosting refugees in February.

Schwartz said all of the asylum-seekers have a place to go, and that is almost always outside of Chandler.

People can apply for asylum in the United States if they have suffered persecution, or fear suffering persecution, due to race, religion, nationality, being a member in a particular social group, or for political opinions. They have to be physically in the U.S. to request asylum.

Many of the refugees arriving in Chandler will take a bus to Sky Harbor Airport for a flight to stay with family elsewhere in the U.S.

While they are in Chandler, they are given some comforts to start their new life, such as some new clothes, shoes, hats, and purses. They are also returned all their personal items, including shoe laces, that were confiscated when they surrendered to border officials.

There is also food, beverages and if they are so inclined, a shower.

When Schwartz first started organizing this effort four years ago she built a network of 14 churches that would host these events. When the COVID pandemic began, that network fell apart because of social distancing. Now, she is in the process of rebuilding it with five churches taking part.

Schwartz said The Grove is the only Chandler church currently welcoming refugees. Even though the refugees are just passing through, Schwartz said she has heard some complaints because of the hot-button topic of illegal immigrants.

“I do this because I’m a pastor,” Schwartz said. “If people have a problem with this, they need to talk to the people in the government.”

The Grove is not getting paid to provide this service, and most of the donations they receive come from either members of their congregation, or their friends and family.

“I just put out a call on our distribution list,” said Joe Agresti, a volunteer who coordinates the event for the church. He said they have been very generous.

“I can take you inside and you wouldn’t believe how much we have,” Agresti said. “I often send boxes to Magdalena for her to use at other events.”

A July 20 event got emotional when some of the refugees were reunited with their family members. The refugees also get a chance to call their family to help work out the logistics of getting to their new home.

Schwartz said before COVID shut down their refugee welcome program in 2020, they had helped more than 100,000 people adjust to life in the U.S. while waiting for the outcome of their asylum hearings.

“The government doesn’t give us any financial resources,” Schwartz said. “And nobody gives us money. We do this by faith, because we love Jesus.”


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