In October 2018, Magdalena Schwartz, the pastor of the Spanish service at Vineyard Community Church in Gilbert, Arizona, received a call from the Department of Homeland Security asking for her help.
It was a request to use his church as a detention center for asylum-seeking immigrants from nearby Border Patrol stations; The department could not hold them for more than 24 hours due to the ensuing large influx of arrivals.
Schwartz, herself an immigrant, opened her doors and volunteered to help where she could.
On the first day he sent 20 families. The next day, another 20 families. The next day he sent 40 families.
Schwartz realized it was a long commitment because he needed assistance every day. He immediately reached out to other churches in the area and formed a network of about 17 mostly Hispanic churches willing to welcome immigrants.
Five years later, Schwartz is now the director of immigrant ministry at Vineyard Church and maintains a partnership with The Grove Church in Chandler. Both receive a total of 60 to 100 migrants weekly.
“US Immigration and Customs Enforcement brings a busload of immigrants here to the church and we provide them with food, water and clothing,” Schwartz said. “We call their sponsors or relatives, and they are released from the procedures.”
The final step is to organize volunteers or staff to drive the migrants to the airport to meet their sponsors across the United States. The team then begins preparations for the next batch of arrivals.
Although it’s a tough job, Schwartz said he looks forward to providing the help they’ve been given during their immigration process.
“I want to do for someone else what someone else did for me and my kids,” Schwartz said. “I’m so grateful that I get to do what I’m doing.”
‘Best decision I ever made’: Schwartz’s trip from Chile to the United States
After years of job instability and low-paying jobs, Schwartz decided at age 29 to leave for her home country of Chile with her two children, ages 7 and 10.
“I am so grateful for the best decision I made for my children,” Schwartz said. “They have a good life here.”
Prior to her arrival, Schwartz looked to her sister, who had successfully moved to the United States and found work, as an inspiration for the life she could lead. One day, he received a call from his sister saying she would be willing to let him stay at her home in Phoenix if he found a way to move to the United States.
Schwartz immediately applied for a visa, but was denied three separate times. However, his faith never wavered and his desire to immigrate to his children and give back to the people of the United States only grew. On his fourth attempt, he was approved and allowed to stay in the country for six months. In 1988, Schwartz and his two sons boarded a plane from Chile to Los Angeles and never looked back.
“Even though I was young, I knew that coming to the United States was the greatest thing in the world,” recalled Schwartz’s daughter Esther Rodriguez, who was 10 when they immigrated to the United States. He explained that the words “freedom” and “opportunity” echoed in his mind as he boarded the shuttle to the airport.
“When we go to Los Angeles, when I see the American flag up there, I start crying,” Schwartz said. “I got down on my knees and said, ‘Lord, thank you for giving me the desire in my heart.'”
According to Schwartz, Schwartz’s sister and brother-in-law picked up Schwartz and their children at the airport and traveled to their home in Arizona. When they arrived, donated clothes and toys were waiting for the children, who were crying and shouting, “Thank you, America!”
From that moment on, Magdalena Schwartz knew that her mission was to give to others what had been graciously given to her and her children.
Schwartz said his sons, now 42 and 45, have successful careers and families in the United States.
His son Carlos Salaz commented that he visited Chile in 2018 with his wife and three children and said it was a “surreal and emotional experience” to return to the country where he grew up and visit the family. whom he had never seen. more than 30 years.
Salaz said, “It made me realize that if we hadn’t traveled to the United States, this is where we would be.” “I am where I am today and getting what I have because of those sacrifices changed my life.”
A mission to help the community locally and nationally
Making my way in a new country with a major language I didn’t speak and no work experience in the United States, it was a tough journey. She worked as a babysitter, a homemaker, and whatever else she could find to support her children. However, his mission to give back was always the end goal.
About 10 years after her visa expired, Schwartz said a Mesa police officer unexpectedly appeared at her church’s Mesa office, threatening to look at her paperwork, claiming she was working illegally. Still working. The pastor said he was not called by her or by anyone at the church and believes he stepped outside his jurisdiction as a police officer by threatening her.
Months later, he recalled the experience meeting with a police detective who was trying to repair relations between the Hispanic community and the police because Hispanics, especially immigrants, “were afraid to call the police and report a crime.” Are.” “due to fears of possible deportation.
The officer told her that if there are any other concerns or problems within the community, the police department is interested and wants to discuss them to try to make improvements.
“It’s objective,” Schwartz said. “To do something not just for my community, but for the police department.”
After learning of incidents of evictions in the East Valley caused by police threats, he spoke to the mayor and council members of Gilbert. She said that after she arrived, Gilbert police were willing to contact her for information on immigrant issues and often allowed the correct agency to handle those cases.
“The Hispanic community and all communities need to trust the police department,” Schwartz said. “We need to have good communication.”
As a start of clear and equal communication and as a thank you, Schwartz decided in 2016 to hold a large breakfast for police officers where they could enjoy a meal and talk to each other. This homemade scrumptious breakfast has now become an annual tradition and continues to expand, involving more police departments throughout the Valley and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The event is organized by a small group on a low budget, but an active team of volunteers, community donations and passion keep the annual breakfast going, according to Dennis Brittain, corporate liaison for the Arizona Interfaith Movement, who hired Magdalena Schwartz to organize. have helped. Event every year since 2018.
“Every year I help her with her guest list, and now it’s grown a lot,” Britton said. “She’s really built it with integrity and honesty about what she’s trying to accomplish and just helping and appreciating other people.”
Brittain said that in addition to hosting the event, Schwartz sends acknowledgments to all invited police agencies thanking them for their service and kindness to the community.
“We need to establish a relationship because we never know when we’ll need each other,” said Schwartz, when the Department of Homeland Security first called him and asked him to place immigrants at his church. Britten said local law enforcement actively turn to Schwartz when they need information about immigration status or translation services because of their trust in each other.
In addition to building police relationships, Schwartz continues to work to better his community both locally and nationally. Whether it’s going to Washington, D.C. to talk to politicians about immigration reform or owning her own business, Latino Community Services, which helps prepare documents for immigrants applying for citizenship does or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA). Schwartz says she’s always looking for where she can help.
Schwartz said, “I put the word of love into action.” “When you put God’s love into practice, you can change your community, you can change your family, you can change your city, you can change the world.”
‘we need help. ‘We Need People’: 5 Years of Fighting for Vineyard Church While Helping Migrants
Schwartz’s request for help placing immigrants came in 2018, with a two-year hiatus beginning in 2020 due to COVID-19 fears. After restarting in 2022, they gathered the most immigrants in a five-year period, averaging about 300 people per week.
The number is slowly starting to decline, but a larger influx is likely following the expiration of Title 42, an immigration measure introduced by Trump that restricts access for asylum seekers due to COVID-19 concerns . And the Department of Homeland Security reported that it could be coming soon.
For now, Vineyard Community Church continues to serve immigrants every Thursday and Friday, with staff and volunteers preparing meals for them, helping with paperwork and driving them to the airport.
“We don’t get any financial resources from the government,” Schwartz said. “We need help. We need people. They can donate us clothes, shoes, water, food, even if someone just wants to give us some money.”
Donations are always accepted at the church and those who would like to help care for migrants passing through the valley can contact Schwartz at 480-221-7970.
“They tell me ‘I haven’t eaten in two weeks,'” Schwartz said of the migrants passing through. “I tell them: ‘Be grateful for what you have received today and do to others what we do to you now.'”