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3 Years After Taking Sanctuary In A Maplewood Church, Alex Garcia Still Needs A Path Forward

Alex Garcia poses for a portrait at Christ Church United Church of Christ, where he’s taking sanctuary.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Christ Church, a United Church of Christ congregation located in Maplewood, first opened its doors to Alex Garcia in September 2017.

Alex Garcia has spent the last 1,101 days in a Maplewood church. That amounts to just over three years of his life.

Garcia had already lived and worked in Missouri for 11 years when, in 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied Garcia’s request for a stay of removal from the country. The Honduran native still lacks a viable path to U.S. citizenship. And until he has one, he and his community of supporters have made clear, Christ Church is home.

It’s been a long road for Garcia, his wife, Carly, and their five children, and the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America devoted last week to raising awareness about the family’s plight. The organization implemented a Week of Action for its ongoing Alex Belongs Here campaign to help get the word out.

For Carly Garcia, the week also involved expressing gratitude to the many people who have rallied around them, even as authorities continue to deny her husband a path to citizenship.

“From the amount of support that we’ve seen coming here,” she told Humans of St. Louis in a recent series about the family, “let’s just say I don’t want to leave St. Louis, even when he can be free.”

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, she joined host Sarah Fenske to share her perspective on where the situation stands — and how the Garcias and their supporters hope to build momentum from here.

Also participating in the conversation was Sara John, executive director of IFCLA, for which Carly Garcia also now works as operations manager.

John explained that Alex Garcia is in a situation where U.S. authorities have said he has no place here “unless he leaves the country and accrues at least 10 years’ time outside the country and then goes through another application process.”

But returning to Honduras isn’t feasible for the Garcias.

“There has been a coup d'état, there has been a repressive, aggressive, violent dictatorship,” John said, “and going back to that country and the place that Alex grew up … doesn’t seem to be a viable option for him or certainly not for their five children.”

Carly Garcia said she never envisioned Alex would still be taking sanctuary in Christ Church at this point and remains baffled by the lack of a path forward for her partner.

“He’s a perfectly good husband, perfectly good father, hardworking man. And you know, he pays his taxes. He helps the community when he can,” she said. “And it’s just like, I don’t understand why they can’t give him the option to stay. All they’re doing is taking a perfectly good household and ripping it apart.”

Alex Garcia is one of about 45 people who are living in sanctuary across the U.S. During the discussion, John delved into the strategy behind taking sanctuary as well as some of the roots of the concept.

“In some ways what we’re doing is using this tool to hold up the moral dilemma that we are confronted with in how immigration policy is functioning in the United States today,” John said.

She added that “when you meet the people of Christ Church, this is also an expression of their deeply, profoundly held beliefs about how we need to treat other people.”

“Offering sanctuary and standing with Carly and Alex in this moment of injustice is inseparable to how they live into their Christian values,” John said of the United Church of Christ congregation.

Carly Garcia also touched on the additional challenges she’s faced lately, with the year 2020 making the situation even more difficult.

“It’s been really stressful, and I’ve been trying to find ways to juggle being a single mom and trying to find time to work and now homeschool my kids,” Garcia said, adding that it would all be a lot easier if she could “have Alex home and helping me and just not even having the fear of what’s going to happen next, from one moment to the next.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.