An Hispanic church in Mesa that provides food and shelter to migrants seeking asylum was burglarized again this week.
The burglary Monday is the latest in a string of incidents at the church that include at least one previous burglary, an assault against the pastor and intimidation of worshippers by armed members of an anti-immigrant group, said Hector Ramirez, pastor of Iglesia Cristiana El Buen Pastor, or Good Shepherd Christian Church, which serves a mostly Spanish-speaking congregation.
Ramirez said he does not believe Monday's burglary was related to the church's work providing humanitarian assistance to migrants released by U.S. immigration authorities.
The church will continue its work assisting migrants despite the incidents, Ramirez said.
The church's work providing food, shelter and other humanitarian assistance to migrants was highlighted by The Arizona Republic in December as part of coverage of the possible lifting of Title 42 restrictions. The public health rule has been used under the Trump and Biden administrations during the pandemic to quickly expel migrants who cross the southern border without authorization.
The church is one of several groups in Arizona that coordinate with the Department of Homeland Security to provide food and shelter to migrants after their release from custody so that they don't have to be dropped off at bus stations. They typically spend a day or two at the shelters until transportation can be arranged for them to travel to meet sponsors, usually in other states.
For subscribers:Gov. Hobbs: Plan for Arizona to pay migrants' travel costs is 'efficient and humane'
Police are investigating Monday's burglary, said Det. Richard Encinas, a Mesa Police Department spokesperson. No suspects have been identified, he said.
The burglary happened about 6:30 p.m. Monday, Ramirez said. Video surveillance shared by Ramirez shows four males running through the parking lot and entering the fenced grounds of the church through a gate.
The burglars shattered four large windows and then entered an office where they caused damage and sprayed the walls with a bottle of soda that had been left inside a desk, Ramirez said.
Nothing appeared to have been stolen from the office. The burglars attempted to enter other rooms, he said, but the doors were locked.
Ramirez said this was third time the church has been burglarized.
He also was assaulted in April by a man who jumped over a fence as Ramirez was walking through the parking lot, Ramirez said. The man punched him and kicked him, injuring his ribs and leg, he said.
The assault took place days after four men arrived in a black pickup truck and stood across the street taking photographs of people arriving for a Sunday morning worship service. Ramirez said they were members of an anti-immigrant group trying to intimidate church members to stop the church's work assisting migrants.
Ramirez shared photos that show the four men standing on the sidewalk across the street from the church. Three of the men in the photos are armed with handguns and two are wearing military-style tactical vests loaded with ammunition magazines.
Encinas, the Mesa police spokesperson, only could find records of two burglaries at the church. At this point, it does not appear the burglaries and the assault are connected to the church's work assisting migrants, he said.
"We don't have any correlation that we've seen," Encinas said. "There's nothing that's drawing us in that direction."
A crime scene tech processed the scene for fingerprints and DNA after Monday's burglary and police are awaiting lab results, Encinas said.
Encincas said a records search showed the church was also burglarized Oct. 3, 2021. Damage was done to windows, doors and TVs. Police processed the scene, but no suspects were identified, Encinas said.
Encinas said police records show Ramirez was assaulted on April 22. The pastor told officers he recognized the male as a "transient" who frequents a nearby park. With Ramirez's help, police located the suspect in the park and the man admitted punching the pastor, Encinas said.
Ramirez declined to press charges for the assault but said he did not want the man back on the church property, Encinas said. Police warned the man that he would be arrested for trespassing if he went back on the property and the case was closed, Encinas said.
On April 17, a telephone call log shows police received a call from a church member who said four armed men were standing outside the church taking photos but said no one had been threatened or injured.
Encinas said the men were not breaking any laws and no police report was taken.
"They were on public property. They weren't threatening anybody, they weren't yelling at anybody, they weren't doing any of those types of things, so at that point, it really wasn't a police issue," Encinas said.
Ramirez said people who would like to donate to the church can call 480-343-7361.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or at 602-444-8312. Follow him on Twitter @azdangonzalez.
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: A Mesa church that assists migrants has been burglarized again