A refugee from Honduras has surpassed 1,000 days in a Maplewood church as he tries to avoid deportation.
Alex Garcia hit that milestone on Wednesday. If he steps off the property of Christ United Church of Christ, federal officials will likely send him to Honduras.
“It sucks, still being stuck in sanctuary this long,” Garcia said. “A thousand days. It’s a long time.”
Garcia originally left Hondruas to escape violence.
He was deported the first time he entered the U.S. years ago. If he’s forced to leave again, he would have to wait a decade before applying for permanent residency.
That means a lengthy separation from his family. He is married to a U.S. citizen, and they have five U.S.-born children.
Carly Garcia says it’s like they’ve been living on a roller coaster for more than two and a half years.
“For me and for the kids. Trying to stay strong for what our family is going through. Living in sanctuary and now a pandemic,” she said, “and trying to figure out how I can continue to fight for my family.”
They still face roadblocks.
An application for a Stay of Removal — complete with 1,500 petition signatures gathered in less than a week — was returned by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The rejection was more disappointing than usual after indications from ICE that it would accept requests by mail because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
There have been efforts to gain support from politicians in D.C. as well. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, has introduced a measure that would provide a pathway to citizenship, but that has stalled, said Sara John, the executive director of the St. Louis Interfaith Committee on Latin America and the lead organizer for Garcia and his family.
She said many keep telling her and the Garcias that there are more pressing issues, leaving her with the impression that a man stuck in a church is seen as an inconvenience by some.
“Living in sanctuary isn’t convenient, period,” she said, “and so, at some point, enough is enough. Then you have to be courageous enough to step into leadership in Congress anyway and make what is right happen.”
So, Garcia stays in the church. He passes the time by doing odd jobs at the church, like painting and fixing roof leaks.
“I’m still hoping that soon, I hope, I can be with my family again, like normal.”
Even with all the frustrations, his wife, Carly, is trying to keep the faith as well.
“I’m just waiting for the right person to finally step up and make these decisions,” she said, "and allow our family to move on with our lives.”
Although an end does not appear in sight, she and her husband remain thankful for the support of the community that extends beyond the church.
“This is an unpayable debt,” she said.
Correction: In a previous version of this story a photo ran which incorrectly identified the man as Alex Garcia.
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