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