U.S. Rep. Cori Bush has introduced a bill to grant permanent residency to Alex Garcia, a Honduran immigrant who has been living inside Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood for nearly three and a half years.
Garcia sought sanctuary in the Maplewood church so that federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials could not deport him to his native Honduras.
Bush announced the legislation today via Zoom in a press conference with Garcia, his lawyer and family.
Garcia said this bill gives him hope.
“I hope the private bill she is introducing for me will be the pathway for me to stay with my family forever,” Garcia said.
Garcia is one of about 50 people who live in sanctuary across the U.S. He said it has been devastating to live away from his wife and children and that he is desperate to receive some relief.
“It has been very hard for me watching my babies grow and learn without me,” Garcia said. “It means more than words can explain how I feel about that promise she [Bush] has made to me, my family and all their families living the same injustice as we are.”
Garcia’s separation from his family and the actions federal authorities have taken to separate children from their families at the U.S.-Mexico border speak to how much the U.S. immigration system needs an overhaul, Bush said.
“Our immigration system, as it stands today, is a perpetrator of crimes against humanity,” Bush said. “It is a system that separates children from parents, puts kids in cages, incentivizes dangerous crossings through unforgiving terrain and offers limited lives and offers a limited pathway to citizenship.”
Bush learned of Garcia’s struggles from his wife a few years ago while working in the community. Bush said there are many unauthorized immigrants who need help, but since Garcia is in sanctuary in her district, he is her top priority.
Bush knows the road to permanent residency won’t be easy, but she hopes to get the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, so Garcia can be granted a stay of removal for the duration of the congressional session.
“Since 2007, only four private bills have been signed into law,” Bush said. “It won't discourage us, because what we see when we see those four bills is hope. We see it as a possibility and as an opportunity.”
In 2019, then-U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay introduced a similar bill that would have granted him permanent residency, but that bill did not pass.
Bush asked other House Judiciary Immigration and Citizenship committee members to make the bill a priority.
The bill that Bush introduced meets the immediate needs of Garcia, said Sara John, executive director of St. Louis Inter-faith Committee on Latin America.
John is working with Garcia’s attorney and Bush to keep ICE from deporting Garcia while the bill makes its way through Congress. Garcia will continue to live in sanctuary until he is fully protected under a stay of removal or he receives permanent residency.
“Private bills serve a lot of purposes,” John said. “One, it is yet another tool that can be used to talk about the injustices of public law.”
In January, the Biden Administration issued a 100-day moratorium on deportations to allow Garcia and others to stay with their families in the U.S. But a federal judge in Texas placed a temporary block on the executive order.
John said she hopes Congress sees private immigration bills as an opportunity to create federal laws that will help immigrants stay in the country with their families.
While Bush and immigration advocates work on Garcia’s behalf, John said Garcia will try to find a sense of normalcy while living in sanctuary and continue to fight for his freedom and his family
“Hopefully this will yield some relief and we will fight and take and accept short term temporary relief to enable us to keep fighting the longer term game,” John said.
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