On July 27th, the Phoenix Welcome Center for Asylum-Seeking Families opened its doors for the first time. Thirty asylum-seekers—parents and their children—from Mexico and Honduras were greeted by staff and volunteers. Once inside, the families were provided a snack and bottle of water. This was a beginning to the humanitarian assistance provided by the IRC and partner organizations.
“When I got off the bus today [at the center], I felt freedom. I felt very happy when we got here. I felt joy and happiness because everyone here welcomed us very kindly. When we got here they said welcome and hugged us… We could feel the love and the concern,” said an asyum-seeking mother served by the IRC and partner organizations earlier this year.
The families served at the Welcome Center are seeking asylum, a legal process under U.S. law to seek safety in the United States from the violence and persecution in their home countries. Many of the families have encountered severe trauma, including in their home countries and on the journey to the United States. Violence and persecution in Central American countries is high, with El Salvador having one of the highest rates of murder outside of an active war-zone and Guatemala having the third highest rate of femicide in the world. Conditions for migrants in Mexico are also dangerous. A recent IRC report found shocking levels of sexual assault and other violence for migrants along the border.
The Welcome Center provides humanitarian assistance while travel for the families to their sponsors is coordinated. Most families only stay at the Welcome Center for 24-48 hours before departing on their journey. While they are there, the IRC and partner organizations provide food, shelter, legal orientation, medical screening, travel assistance, and donated clothing, toys, and hygiene items. Partner organizations are critical to this effort, with hot food provided by St. Vincent de Paul, medical screening provided by One Hundred Angels, and volunteer support provided by the Phoenix Restoration Project.
Each of the families have a sponsor in the United States. The IRC works with the sponsor to coordinate travel for the asylum-seeking family to their sponsor. When the travel is booked, staff and volunteers provide travel assistance, driving families to the airport or bus station. Staff and volunteers then walk the family through the travel process, receiving and explaining their tickets and making sure they board for their trip.
The programs at the Welcome Center build on the IRC’s previous work to provide a day center for asylum-seeking families in partnership with St. Vincent de Paul. At the day center, the IRC and partners provided humanitarian assistance to over 5,000 people between March and June of 2019.
Currently, the Welcome Center will be able to accommodate up to 70 individuals. When additional renovations are completed in the coming months, the Welcome Center will be able to host up to 277 people. Staff will be on site 24 hours a day to assist families.
All services provided by the Welcome Center have been entirely privately funded, and no federal, state, or local funding has been provided. It is only through the generosity of the Phoenix community that we are able to provide these services. Consider supporting our ongoing efforts below by making a contribution, by donating items in-person or through our Amazon wishlist, or by volunteering.