Alex Garcia (left) and Rep. William Lacy Clay met in Christ Church for around 30 minutes Friday.
“Why break up a family?” U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) asked after his half-hour meeting with Alex Garcia and his wife, Carly, at Christ Church in Maplewood.
Garcia, 36, has lived in the U.S. for thirteen years. Last fall, he was denied his request to stay in the country as part of a new initiative to tighten immigration restrictions. Two prior requests, each valid for one year under the previous administration, had been approved.
Garcia’s wife and their five children reside in Poplar Bluff, a two and a half hour drive from the church where Garcia sought sanctuary in September. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, generally avoids making arrests at "sensitive locations," which include places of worship, and he hoped the publicity around his action would help him earn a reprieve. In November, he was on the cover of the Riverfront Times
Eight months after arriving, Garcia is still living in the church. ICE hasn't made a move, but he's still under orders to leave — and if he sets foot outside Christ Church, he faces possible arrest and deportation.
On Friday, Clay came to the church to discuss what he could do for Garcia. Right now, though, Clay is searching for options.
“We are fishing to figure out a way forward to help this young man get reunited with his family,” he says.
Clay says action will start with immigration officials.
“This process begins with ICE,” he says, “and making an appeal to them to take another look at this case to realize that Alex has been a model citizen and has supported his family and is loved by his community.”
Though uncertain of what exact procedure will follow, Clay, who supports immigration reform, vows he will be there the day Garcia gets to walk out of Christ Church as a free man.
Rep. Clay met with Alex and Carly Garcia, as well as Sara John of the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America and Revered Rebecca Turner of Christ Church (left.)
If Garcia were to turn himself in or be arrested by immigration authorities, his deportation would prevent him from returning to the U.S. for a minimum of ten years. This is a chilling reality for the Garcia family, especially considering Honduras has one of the highest murder rates in the world — and the Garcias are raising five children.
Garcia’s growing support extends beyond Clay. In February, the Riverfront Times reported on fundraisers held in Saint Louis and Poplar Bluff
for Garcia and his family.
As for Clay’s decision to meet with Garcia and work toward getting him to staying the U.S., Clay says, “No one should have to be separated from their family, from their community, when all he wanted was a better life.”
That’s exactly how Garcia and his wife, Carly, feel. Every Friday evening, Garcia’s wife drives from Poplar Bluff to the church and stays until Sunday evening. It’s the only way she can see her husband.
And because of that, Garcia has missed out on the little things with his family: a child’s first bike ride, preschool graduation, singing songs learned in church in the family’s home.
Carly Garcia says the uncertainty of her husband’s future is agonizing and painful.
“There is no other way to explain it,” she says.
But her and her husband’s meeting with Clay took away some of Carly Garcia’s concerns.
“I felt hopeful about it,” she says. “I’m excited. Hopefully we can get change so we can get him home.”
In the meantime, Alex Garcia will continue spending his time in Christ Church: doing handy work, painting and trying to sleep when he can. Clay, too, says he will be at work, trying to get Garcia the chance to stay in the U.S. for good.