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Government, Politics & Issues

Alex Garcia Leaves Maplewood Church After 3½ Years As ICE Decides Not To Deport Him

For the first time in three and a half years, Alex Garcia on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 left Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, where he had taken sanctuary from immigration authorities that ordered him deported.
Theo R. Welling
/
Special to St. Louis Public Radio
For the first time in 3½ years, Alex Garcia on Wednesday left Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood. Garcia, a Honduran immigrant, had taken sanctuary in the church from immigration authorities that ordered him deported.

Updated at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 24

Alex Garcia, the Honduran immigrant who sought sanctuary in a Maplewood Church nearly 3½ years ago, went home Wednesday.

“I am no longer a priority of deportation,” Garcia said to loud cheers as he left Christ Church United Church of Christ.

Supporters for Alex Garcia, cheer for him as he walks out of Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, where he has lived in sanctuary for more than 3 years. Garcia, a Honduran immigrant, left with his wife and children Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 after U.S. immigration authorities said he is no longer a priority for deportation.
Theo R. Welling
Supporters for Alex Garcia, cheer for him as he walks out of Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, where he lived in sanctuary for more than 3 years.

He was able to leave because immigration authorities say he is no longer a priority for deportation, his lawyers said.

Garcia sought refuge inside the church because federal authorities had ordered him deported and he wanted to remain in the country with his wife and children.

Dozens of masked church members and community supporters cheered him on Wednesday afternoon as he left the church after 1,252 days. Many wore T-shirts and carried signs that said, “Alex Belongs Here.”

Garcia fought back tears and told the crowd that he is happy to reunite with his family, but that there is more work to be done.

“I look forward to being able to join you all out there in the community and continue to fight for my permanent protection,” he said.

Garcia and his legal team will continue pursuing the right for him to stay in the U.S. with his family.

Alex Garcia addresses a crowd of supporters outside Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood before he leaves the church for the first time in more than 3 years on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.
Theo Welling
Alex Garcia addresses a crowd of supporters outside Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood before he leaves the church for the first time in more than 3 years on Wednesday.

His release comes one week after President Joe Biden made it clear that immigrant families are not a threat. The president moved to curtail deportations, ordering immigration agents to seek federal approval before deporting unauthorized immigrants who have been in the U.S. for some time. Instead, federal immigration authorities will concentrate on deporting violent offenders.

But Garcia still needs to win permanent residency so that he will no longer face the threat of deportation, said his attorney, Nicole Cortes.

“Justice will come for Alex when he can live without fear, when his wife and those beautiful kids can trust that their government won’t take Alex away,” she said.

Cortes plans to apply for a stay of deportation next.

Alex Garcia leaves with his family out of Christ Church United Church of Christ, 2200 Bellevue Ave., Maplewood Mo on Thursday February 24th, 2021 in support of Alex Garcia no longer being pursued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has declared that Alex Garcia, a Honduran immigrant who has been living in sanctuary for over three and a half years, is no longer a priority for deportation. The agency has unequivocally stated that it will not be pursuing Alex’s detention or removal.
Theo R. Welling
Alex Garcia (center) walks with his family from Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, where Garcia has been living in sanctuary for nearly 3½ years.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush sponsored a bill that would grant Garcia permanent residency in the U.S.

“ICE has promised not to deport Alex, and we will stop at nothing to ensure that they keep their promise, said Bush, D-St. Louis. “In Congress, I will continue championing the private bill to grant Alex permanent residency, which is the surest way to guarantee permanent unity for his family.”

There is also some push from the federal government to help all immigrants continue living with their families in the U.S. On Feb. 18, the Biden administration implemented new immigration enforcement guidelines to limit arrests and deportations.

The administration will make it a priority to detain and deport those who pose a threat to national security and public safety.

Garcia’s legal team was glad to see the change in federal policy but will continue to work to achieve long-term protection for Garcia.

Carly Garcia waves to a crowd of supporters and media as she drives away from the Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood with her husband Alex Garcia next to her and their children riding in the back on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021.
Theo R. Welling
Carly Garcia waves to a crowd of supporters as she drives away from the Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood with her husband, Alex Garcia, next to her and their children riding in the back on Wednesday.

“Elections have consequences. It is encouraging to see ICE return to more humane and priority-based enforcement,” said Javad Khazaeli, Garcia’s attorney. “I am encouraged by the steps the president and progressive leaders like Rep. Bush have taken to move us toward an immigration system that works.”

Garcia’s wife, Carly, said his ability to safely leave the church is a victory for her family, but she will continue to fight for him and others in sanctuary to continue living in the U.S.

“Thank you all so much for your continued support and we look forward to continuing to push for more just immigration laws so that all of the families in sanctuary are free,” she said.

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