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Man Seeks Freedom After Living in Church for Three Years


Alex Garcia, an immigrant who has sought sanctuary from deportation since 2017 at Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood, Mo, poses for a portrait on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018.
Man Seeks Freedom After Living in Church for Three Years
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American lawmaker Cori Bush is seeking permanent residency for a Honduran immigrant who has lived for three years in a church, a Christian religious building.

Bush is a new member of the United States House of Representatives. This week, she proposed a private bill that would permit Alex Garcia to safely leave the Christ Church United Church of Christ in Missouri. In 2017, the church gave Garcia refuge so the government could not enforce his expulsion for illegally entering the U.S.

Garcia sneaked into the country in 2004 and has remained since then, finding work and building a family. He is hopeful that the bill will be a “pathway for freedom,” he said.

“I miss spending time with my family outside of the church walls,” he said. “It has been hard for me watching my babies grow and learn without me.”

Garcia is among many immigrants in the United States who took refuge from expulsion during Donald Trump’s term as president. Many have said they are hopeful they can gain citizenship under new President Joe Biden.

In his first weeks in office, Biden signed several orders that undo some Trump administration policies on immigration. Several Republican Party lawmakers are seeking to block the new orders.

Garcia fled extreme poverty and violence in Honduras, his supporters say. He and his wife Carly Garcia, a U.S. citizen, have lived in the small Missouri town of Poplar Bluff for more than 10 years.

In 2015, immigration officials ordered Garcia’s expulsion. He received two one-year suspensions of the order under former president Barack Obama.

But after Trump took office in 2017, Garcia was again ordered to be expelled. He then found refuge at the church in Maplewood.

Pastor Becky Turner said Garcia quickly became a valued part of the church membership.

“I have watched as he set up beds for the unhoused on cold winter nights,” Turner said. “I have watched as he would take care of our church members who needed something fixed or built or found. Alex the guest quickly became Alex the host.”

She added, “The country needs more people like Alex.”

A private bill is one that targets a single individual. These bills are rare and usually sought as a last effort. Immigration is a common issue of private bills.

Cori Bush said only four private bills have been signed into law since 2007.

“This will not be an easy fight, but that’s never stopped us before and it won’t stop us today,” Bush said. “We stand with Alex and we will not rest until he is free and protected from the most inhumane element of our country’s immigration system.”

The lawmaker that Bush replaced in January also sought passage of a private bill for Garcia. But that bill failed to pass.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Jim Salter reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted this story for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

host n. a person who receives or entertains guests

residencyn. legal permission to live in a place

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