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Advocates Say Immigration Overhaul Needed For Alex Garcia And Others In Sanctuary

Alex and Carly Garcia listen to a Sunday sermon which kicked off a "week of action" in support of their family.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo
St. Louis Public Radio
Alex and Carly Garcia listen to a sermon during an event in 2018 to help support their family. Alex has been living in a Maplewood church for over three years. He wants the federal government to grant unauthorized immigrants like himself who face deportation permanent protection under the law.

Alex Garcia has been living inside Christ Church, United Church of Christ, in Maplewood for nearly 3½ years. He sought sanctuary there after immigration officials ordered him to be sent back to Honduras.

To help unauthorized immigrants like Garcia, the Biden administration issued a 100-day moratorium on deportations to allow them to stay with their families in the U.S. But on Tuesday, a federal judge in Texas placed a temporary block on the executive order for 14 days. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argued that the moratorium violates the U.S. Constitution and federal immigration and administrative law.

Immigration lawyers in the St. Louis region want Congress to overhaul the nation’s immigration system to protect unauthorized immigrants from deportation, including those whom immigration authorities have ordered to leave the U.S. They say the federal government’s delay in enacting an immigration overhaul harms immigrants.

“I just wish, and I think everyone does, that it could be some more finality to it, and I think that could only come in the form of legislative action,” said Nicole Cortés, co-director of the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action Project.

Cortés, who is Garcia’s attorney, said the federal judge’s decision to temporarily block the deportation moratorium highlights the continual state of uncertainty that many immigrants live in.

President Joe Biden’s order provided Garcia and his family a sigh of relief for about a week. During a press conference this week with other members of the National Sanctuary Collective, Garcia said that he is thankful for the 100-day reprieve but that those in sanctuary need more shielding from removal.

“We need permanent protection so I can stay here with my family without the threat of deportation,” Garcia said via Zoom. “We need more than 100 days.”

Across the nation, there are at least 50 people living in sanctuary. Garcia said they and other unauthorized immigrants need the federal government’s protection.

“We need for the government to accept us and welcome us as the people of this church welcomed me — and to give us permanent protection,” Garcia said. “I love my family and that’s why I fight, and we fight. I’ll fight for them.”

Cortés said Garcia remains optimistic, despite the federal judge's order temporarily halting the Biden administration's moratorium on deportations, because he has seen setbacks during previous administrations.

Cortés urged Congress to consider the lived experiences of immigrants in sanctuary as they consider overhauling the nation’s immigration laws.

St. Louis immigration attorney David Cox said he is working with other immigration advocates to encourage the Biden administration to address their ongoing concerns with how the immigration system works.

“We're trying to advocate to have a more humane removal system, a more humane immigration system generally, and certainly to deal with removals in a different way,” Cox said. “So, we're hoping for some permanent changes in policy that might require congressional action.”

Follow Andrea on Twitter: @drebjournalist

Andrea covers race, identity & culture at St. Louis Public Radio.