ICE caves on allowing high-profile immigrants to stay in the US — a sign of changing times
ICE officers (YouTube/ ICE Gov)

Alex Garcia, a nationally celebrated example of Donald Trump's no-tolerance immigration policies, left the sanctuary of a St. Louis church today after more than 3 ½ years of carefully guarded refuge there.

In a stunning turnaround, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) informed Garcia that he is no longer a deportation priority. Garcia's case has received much attention since he was provided refuge in 2017 by the church. At that time, ICE had unilaterally revoked a previous decision to allow him to stay with his family and had threatened him with deportation within two weeks.

The new decision by ICE was announced just two days after Congresswoman Cori Bush publicized a private bill that she has introduced demanding Garcia's freedom. Garcia's advocates also cited newly implemented enforcement priorities announced by the Biden Administration last week.

Garcia first came to the U.S from Honduras. in 2002, inadvertently ending up in a Poplar Bluff, MO -- a small rural town near the Ozarks -- after a train ride he thought was taking him to Houston. Garcia, who spoke no English when he arrived, was as an unlikely candidate for captivating folks deep in Trump country. But he built a reputation as a skilled construction worker and generous handyman and when immigration troubles arrived for him, he received unusual support from the conservative town.

Garcia's difficulties started in 2015 when he accompanied his sister to an immigration office in Kansas City for her own matter, not thinking he was vulnerable to deportation after more than a decade in the country. When an official discovered Garcia didn't have citizenship and had a misdemeanor on his record, his troubles began, leading to the deportation order in 2017.

Now married and a father of five, Garcia's release came after intense efforts by activist groups in St. Louis, the Christ Church United Church of Christ and his many supporters. Bush, a leading first-year progressive in Congress, called them out upon the news Garcia could leave the church.

"St. Louis and I are so grateful and relieved that Alex has been reunited with his family at home," Bush said. "This is the power of organizing. The pain Alex and his family have endured is unimaginable, unjust, and unacceptable. ICE has promised not to deport Alex, and we will stop at nothing to ensure that they keep their promise."

Garcia's advocates noted that his is hardly an isolated case among those affected by anti-immigrant policies.

"We know that Alex and millions of families like his are still fighting for permanent solutions and the ability to live united with their families," says Sara John, executive director of the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America.

Javad Khazaeli, one of Garcia's attorneys, said, "Elections have consequences. It is encouraging to see ICE return to more humane and priority-based enforcement. I am encouraged by the steps the President and progressive leaders like Rep. Bush have taken to move us toward an immigration system that works."