An estimated 50 immigrants carrying temporary visas arrived Thursday aboard Homeland Security buses at two churches in San Bernardino County that are working with federal agencies to help the families through the immigration process.
Officials with the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino told NBC4 Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials reached out to them in an effort to address the border crisis stemming from a wave of undocumented immigrants from Central America who have recently crossed into the United States at the Texas-Mexico border. President Barack Obama has described the situation as a "humanitarian crisis."
"As a church, we want to let them know that there are people here in the United States who love and support them, they're praying with them and for them," said John Andrews, of the Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino County. "Maybe that can give them some of that spiritual food for the next leg of their journey."
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"We were told that this would likely be going on through the month of July, but we are prepared to serve for however long we need to," Andrews said.
A white bus marked "Homeland Security" arrived at a Fontana church early Thursday as volunteers unloaded food and other supplies from other vehicles. Volunteers were expected to transport some of the passengers to Rialto, about five miles east of Fontana.
All of the arrivals are mothers with young children, who are carrying paperwork from ICE that will allow them to remain in the United States as they wait for immigration hearings, Diocese officials said. The families will likely remain at the churches, equipped with air mattresses, for about 24 hours, according to the Diocese.
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"The Catholic Church welcomed us," said 16-year-old Dianca, a passenger. "We are here. We are ok."
A volunteer left the church parking lot Thursday morning with Dianca and family members in a car. They were bound for a bus stop and the next part of their journey north.
Nearly all of the passengers are expected to be transported to the Midwest, authorities said.
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While private rooms were made available for them to rest, police said the church is not zoned for multifamily use. The church will be breaking city code if anyone stays overnight.
Fontana police issued a statement on behalf of the city.
"The temporary placement of Central American Immigrants at the St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Fontana is a humanitarian effort on the part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino in cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)," the statement read.
"While the City of Fontana is understanding of the issues and concerns of residents on both sides of this issue, the City has no direct control over the policies of ICE or the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino. The City of Fontana will continue to monitor the situation for Code and Public Safety issues that may arise."
The arrival follows more than week of tension in the Riverside County community of Murrieta, where buses of immigrant families were turned away as they arrived outside a Border Patrol station that was to serve as a processing center. Fontana police were on standby for Thursday's arrival in the community about 50 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, but no disturbances were reported.
The plan for the undocumented immigrants, who crossed into the United States at the Texas-Mexico border, is to process them at local facilities before reuniting them with family members and social service organizations.
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The border crisis led President Barack Obama to request $3.7 billion in emergency funds Tuesday to handle the influx. The request, initially estimated at $2 billion, came a day after another another plane of undocumented women and children arrived at San Diego’s Lindbergh Field, bringing more than 100 immigrants from Central America for processing at local U.S. Customs and Border Protection facilities.
The money President Obama is seeking would be for immigration judges, detention facilities, legal aid and other items that could address the situation on the border.
Fontana city officials said anyone with questions and comments about the project can contact Director of Department of Communications John Andrews at the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Bernardino at 909-475-5420 or firstname.lastname@example.org.