Clay trying to step in for immigrant holed up in church

Clay trying to step in for immigrant holed up in church

As the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services ramps up its operations to deport undocumented people, one man and his family have received a glimmer of hope.

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., introduced a private bill last week that he said could free Alex Garcia, a Honduran refugee currently living in sanctuary at a church in Maplewood.

“We got word from Congressman Lacy Clay that he introduced a private bill on behalf of Alex Garcia that would provide a path for permanent residency for Alex,” said Nicole Cortes, legal counsel for the Garcia family.

The bill, if passed, would end Garcia’s order of removal and allow him to change his immigration status to a permanent legal resident. Garcia is married to Carly Zuniga, a U.S. citizen with whom he has five young children, all born in the U.S.

“I cannot leave my family alone,” Alex Garcia told MetroSTL.com. “They need me right now.”

Garcia, 38, has been living under the protection of sanctuary in the Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, 2200 Bellevue Avenue, since 2017. His family moved from Poplar Bluff, Mo., to St. Louis as the legal battle with the Department of Homeland Security dragged on.

Both parents are concerned for their children, some too young to understand the issues at hand. Both Alex and Carly are committed to keeping their family together.

“As a wife I am not done fighting for my husband,” Carly Garcia said. “I am going to stand by him no matter what, and I’m going to do that.”

Alex Garcia had attempted to enter the U.S. through the Mexican border when he was 20. That attempt failed, and immigration authorities executed an order of removal, sending Garcia back across the border.

Garcia, like thousands of Hondurans, was trying to get away from rampant crime and poverty in his homeland and came to the U.S. motivated by the idea of a better life.

In 2004, Alex Garcia returned to cross the border once again, and this time he got through. He settled in Poplar Bluff, where he met his wife and got married in 2010. He worked in construction to maintain his family.

A visit with his sister to a Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Kansas City raised the authorities’ suspicion, and it wasn’t long before federal authorities linked Garcia to his previous order of removal. It was during this detainment that Garcia came in contact with the Migrant and Community Action Project, a non-for-profit legal aid organization working with cases such as Alex’s.

Co-founder Nicole Cortes, a lawyer, represents Garcia and has been with him since that arrest in Kansas City.

MICA was able to obtain a stay of removal for Garcia good for 12 months and an extension for one more year after that. In 2017, with a dramatic change in policy, the stay of removal was denied, forcing Garcia into sanctuary while next steps where contemplated. With his legal options dwindling, Garcia found refuge in the church in Maplewood, where he has remained to this day.

Cortes acknowledges that a private law has not been passed in quite a while in the U.S. and that it’s rare to even have one introduced.

“It would, of course if it passed, allow him to leave sanctuary, and we are hopeful. It is a very new development that we know is not happening everywhere else, and so we thank the congressman and know that there is a long fight ahead.”

Clay introduced the law last week just ahead of the USCIS’ reported massive raids that seek to deport more than a million peoples with orders of removal.

Garcia has been surrounded by a large support group including the church congregation. Organizations including the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America and MICA have rallied around the Garcia family with support both physical and emotional.

Alex looks forward to a day when he can do simple everyday things. Taking his children to the St. Louis Zoo is high on the list.

He said he was happy to get the news from Clay. He said that he understood there still might be a long road ahead and that he was grateful for Clay’s intercession on his behalf.