ICE Ordered Alex Garcia to Report for Deportation. He Took Sanctuary in a Maplewood Church Instead 

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click to enlarge The Rev. Rebecca Turner says she hopes to inspire other congregations to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. - KELLY GLUECK
  • The Rev. Rebecca Turner says she hopes to inspire other congregations to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

The Rev. Turner and more than a dozen other clergy members meet on a windy October morning outside of Robert A. Young Federal Building in downtown St. Louis.

Garcia's last, best legal option is to persuade ICE to take a second look at his request to stay in the country on a temporary basis. The trouble is that agency officials have so far refused to even accept the paperwork.

It hasn't been for lack of trying. His wife, backed by a few dozen activists, attempted a month ago to hand-deliver the paperwork, but a clerk at the ICE satellite office turned Carleen away.

The pastors have decided to try again. There will be no march this time, and Carleen is not with them. The plan is for Cortés and Turner to deliver the documents, which include more than 800 signatures of people in favor of Garcia's application. They have kept the group small, enough people to show support but not so many as to give Department of Homeland Security officers a reason to say they're causing a disturbance.

Still, within minutes of their arrival, officers stride over and inform them they cannot congregate on the marble floor of an outdoor courtyard. The group dutifully moves onto the sidewalk, where Turner addresses them. She reiterates that they are not there for civil disobedience, but simply to drop off the paperwork and leave. Eventually, eleven people and a toddler head through the spinning doors of the building.

But when they reach the mouth of the hallway leading to ICE's office, a pair of DHS officers steps in front of them. The office is locked for lunch. No one can accept the documents. "They want me to tell you they won't even answer the door," one says.

Cortés speaks up: "ICE accepts documents here all the time."

They make it to the doorway, but the office behind the glass door is indeed locked when they arrive. The officers tell them they have to go, but the pastors refuse. Eventually, the officers agree to ask the ICE staff if two people can come just far enough in to deliver the papers.

Instead, the officers return with what appears to be a police or security supervisor.

"Any tenant in any federal building has the right to refuse service," the supervisor tells the group.

John is incredulous, pointing out that these are taxpayer-funded government offices. Turner repeats that they just want to deliver the papers. "We are not here for civil disobedience," she says.

"Well, that's what this is," the supervisor replies.

Just as it's getting tense, a manager steps out of a side door and finally agrees to let two people into the office. This seems to satisfy the police for the moment; they disappear down the hallway again.

Cortés leans against the wall and shakes her head as she waits for the door to be unlocked. "Fuckery," she says under her breath. She and Turner are eventually allowed inside.

Through the glass, the clerk can be seen cracking an interior door just wide enough to poke her head out and accept the papers before she ducks back inside. Minutes pass as Cortés and Turner wait for her to return.

As the clergy wait hopefully in the hallway, the officers return yet again. This time, they are adamant: Everyone has to leave.

"It's not me asking," one of the officers says. "I'm telling you, you have to go."

He and the pastors go back and forth. The officer wants to know if everyone is refusing to leave. Worried that arrests are coming, three of the people in the group leave, but the others stay. The officers sighs.

"We'll see what we have to do," he says, before leaving again.

Whatever the police decided, the group will never know. Moments later, Cortés and Turner exit the office. The clerk had stamped their papers and given them a receipt. Turner smiles a huge smile and gives the group two thumbs up. They're euphoric over what is the bureaucratic equivalent of mailing a letter.

"That was incredible," Cortés tells the group. "You guys did that."

Later, an ICE official will tell the RFT that staffers had only locked the office door because it was their lunch break, not to avoid the pastors. However, that does not appear to be true. The times posted on the door say lunch ends at 12:30 p.m., and the group lingered until nearly 1 p.m. Conversely, when the RFT returns on two separate occasions during the posted lunch break, the doors are unlocked.

Three weeks after the hallway showdown, Garcia receives a response from ICE: The agency has denied his request. After all they went through to deliver the documents, it is as if officials did not even read the paperwork, John says. Both the timeline described in ICE's denial letter and the number of Garcia's children are wrong, she says. Not that Garcia's supporters are surprised.

John says they always thought it could take multiple attempts. Now, they are settling in for the long fight ahead.

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