A Honduran man who spent nearly 4 years living in a church to escape deportation has finally come out of hiding

Erin Snodgrass
·4 min read
AP21029840679806
Maria Macario, left, talks with Rev. John Gibbons while seated on the steps to the altar at the First Parish church, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2021, in Bedford, Mass. For three years, Macario has been too afraid to leave the confines of the church, which she moved in to avoid deportation AP Photo/Charles Krupa
  • A Honduran man has finally left the church that was providing him sanctuary from deportation.

  • Alex Garcia spent 3.5 years in the Missouri church to avoid removal from the country and his family.

  • He said he now has assurances from the Biden Administration and ICE that he won't be deported.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

For the first time in three-and-a-half years, Alex Garcia stepped outside the Missouri church he's been living in since 2017 as a free man on Wednesday, returning home to his wife and five children.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Honduran national sought refuge in the Maplewood church after federal officials took steps to enforce a deportation order from the first time he entered the US in 2000.

Garcia said he now has assurances from both the Biden Administration and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement that he no longer needs to fear deportation, The Associated Press reported.

In a news release reviewed by the Post-Dispatch, Garcia's immigration lawyer said he is no longer a priority for removal by ICE and that the agency has "unequivocally" said it would not be pursuing his detention.

Since becoming president, Joe Biden has undone many of former President Donald Trump's immigration policies through executive orders.

Garcia first attempted to enter the US in 2000, fleeing extreme poverty and violence in Honduras, but was immediately deported, the Post-Dispatch reported. He entered again in 2004, and has been working and living in the country since.

Once in the US, he boarded a train he thought was headed for Houston and instead, ended up in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, the outlet said. He found a job working construction, and met his future wife, a US citizen. For more than 10 years, they lived quietly with their growing family.

But in 2015, he accompanied his sister to an immigration check-in appointment, and officials realized he was in the country illegally, the Post-Dispatch reported. He was granted two one-year reprieves, but was denied his third request in 2017.

If he had been deported in 2017, Garcia would have had to leave the US for 10 years before he could apply for citizenship, the Post-Dispatch said.

Under federal guidance, churches, schools, and hospitals should not be entered by federal immigration officials to carry out deportations or removals, so he turned to the Christ Church United Church of Christ in the St. Louis suburb of Maplewood for sanctuary.

He stayed for 1,252 days.

Garcia's wife and children regularly drove more than 100 miles to visit him while he lived in the church before finally moving to Maplewood to be near him, the Post-Dispatch reported. The outlet also said that local officials and even Poplar Bluff residents who identified as Trump supporters joined the fight to help keep Garcia with his family.

Following his departure from the church Wednesday, Garcia addressed a crowd of close to 100 people and thanked the community for their ongoing support during his years in the church, the AP reported.

"We are not done yet," Garcia told the crowd. "There is still so much work that has to be done."

Two days before his exit, Rep. Cori Bush of Missouri sponsored a private bill seeking to grant Garcia permanent residency in the country.

Even though Garcia is returning home to his family, for now, Bush emphasized that she plans to make sure the legislation is still passed, as it's the surest way to guarantee Garcia and his family permanent unity, the Post-Dispatch reported.

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Myrna Orozco, the organizing coordinator at Church World Service, told the AP that 33 immigrants are still inside churches across the country. Still, the group expects that number to continue to drop.

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