After nearly 4 years of living in a sanctuary at a Maplewood Church, Alex Garcia walked out on Wednesday, Feb. 24 without the fear of deportation.
Following the Trump administration’s denial in 2017 of his appeal to stay in the country, a crowd around the church was formed of more than 100 people proudly wearing “Alex Belongs Here” t-shirts cheering him on.
Garcia, a father of 5 had a previous career in construction in the United States since 2000. He returned to the country in 2004 fleeing from poverty and extreme violence in Honduras. However, the Trump administration ended immigration discretion that had been established under the Obama administration. As a result, ICE arbitrarily reversed its prior agreement to allow Alex to continue to reside with his family.
Thanks to President Joe Biden’s Feb. 18 order to focus deportation on immigrants convicted of aggravated felonies or that were seen as threats to national security, dozens of immigrants are feeling temporary relief and reuniting with their families.
Biden’s order revoked a strong stance by former President Donald Trump that insured all immigrants illegally staying in the country would be immediately deported. Even undocumented citizens with clean records that were married to U.S citizens and had been granted temporary residence like Garcia, were not exempt from Trump’s previous order.
Although Biden has signed various orders undoing previous policies, multiple Republicans in Congress are still persisting in attempts to legally block said orders.
After living an orderly, quiet life, Garcia grabbed the attention of immigration officials when accompanying his sister to an appointment at an ICE office. While he was there, officials linked him to when he illegally attempted to enter the U.S at the age of 19. With legal assistance, he was granted one-year of stays twice. However, his third application in 2017 was denied.
It was then that Garcia decided to seek refuge in the Maplewood Church knowing it was one of the areas where ICE was prohibited from any deportations.
In 2019, U.S Rep. William Lacy Clay proposed a private bill to protect him from deportation as a means to elongate his time in the U.S. In desperate efforts, Garcia’s supporters rallied to push the bill through Congress by creating an online petition and marching at the church. Despite these efforts, the bill was not passed.
Democrat Congresswoman Cori Bush recently introduced her own bill to ensure permanent residency and the ability for Garcia to leave the church without trepidations.
According to Bush: “This is the power of organizing… ICE has promised not to deport Alex, and we will stop at nothing to ensure that they keep their promise.”
On Wednesday Garcia walked down the church steps for the first time in years. Although this is a celebratory stepping stone to permanent protection, the tempestuous timeline that had to take place is not. He exemplifies the corruption of ICE and the other 50 immigrants currently seeking refuge in churches.
As Garcia said himself “We are not done yet. There is still so much work that has to be done.”