“Eliot Chapel is prepared to shelter an undocumented person or family vulnerable to deportation if we are approached to do so. We encourage other faith communities to join us,” said the Rev. Barbara Gadon, lead minister.
“Our congregation stands with undocumented people in protesting the immoral laws and practices that tear families apart,” Gadon said.
David Cox, outgoing president of the Eliot Chapel board of trustees and an immigration attorney said: “The value of rule by law is deeply held in the United States. As a lawyer, it is sacred to me. But this value assumes that the laws will be moral, enshrine due process over arbitrariness, and above all, they will not confine their protection to the privileged. Today, our immigration system has forfeited any right to obedience by the arbitrary and capricious methods it uses to destroy families and target the powerless.”
Eliot’s decision last month, made public Tuesday, comes nearly nine months after Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood opened its doors to Alex Garcia, who has been living in a makeshift apartment there to avoid deportation.
Garcia came to the United States from Honduras 14 years ago, looking for work and for an escape from an unstable country. He found a job in Poplar Bluff, Mo., got married and began building a family. But he had entered the country illegally.
Garcia first tried to cross into the U.S. in 2000 when he was 19. He was caught by Border Patrol agents and issued an order of removal. Four years later, he tried again, this time successfully. He remained under the radar of immigration officials until 2015. That’s when Garcia accompanied his sister to an immigration check-in appointment at a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Kansas City. After questioning him, investigators linked Garcia to the 2000 deportation order, which was still in effect.
Twice, Garcia got a one-year reprieve to stay in the country. But last summer, under President Donald Trump’s administration, his third request was denied. He was told in September to report to an ICE office to be sent back to Honduras.
Instead, with the help of immigration advocates, Garcia showed up at the Maplewood church, where he has been living ever since. His wife and five children, all U.S. citizens, remain in Poplar Bluff but visit Garcia at least twice a month.
In 2011, ICE enacted a policy designating “sensitive locations” where officials would not likely enforce immigration laws. The locations include churches, schools and hospitals. But the agency makes it clear in the policy that no place is a complete haven.
Gadon and members of the Eliot Chapel have helped Christ Church in supporting Garcia, joining a group of volunteers who sign up for shifts to stay with Garcia around the clock. They are there to serve as a witness in the event immigration officials show up. The Eliot congregation is now seeking support in its sanctuary efforts.
“Come help us,” said Paula Fulks, an Eliot member. “We need strong hearts, open minds, and willing givers to create a haven of support and harmony for the next sanctuary seeker. We don’t know when our neighbor will call on us for shelter, but we want to be ready when they do.”
You can view this article from the St. Louis Post Dispatch here as well.
For more information about Alex Garcia and the MICA Project's involvement with his case, see our Let Alex Stay page.