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What Will Trump's Exit Mean for St. Louis' Immigrants and Refugees? 

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Carly Garcia and her family in September 2017 march in downtown St. Louis. - KATIE HAYES
  • KATIE HAYES
  • Carly Garcia and her family in September 2017 march in downtown St. Louis.

In September 2017, Carly Garcia and her children marched with supporters in downtown St. Louis. She pushed her youngest, just three years old at the time, in a stroller. Cortés, with the MICA Project, and Sara John of the St. Louis Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America, or IFCLA, walked at her side.

"He deserves to be with his five children," Carly said of her husband. "What they are doing to families like ours is not right. We are good people, and he wants to be with us."

It was her first day of what has become a long and frustrating journey, stepping out in front of reporters and demanding justice from unmoved immigration officials, all while her husband is forced to hide out in a church to avoid being snatched away by federal agents.

In the years since, the family had to give up their home in Poplar Bluff. After living with her parents for a time, Carly and three of the kids moved to Maplewood to be closer to Christ Church, where Alex Garcia has been living in a basement hall converted to an apartment. Much has changed. She now works for IFCLA and has become a fierce advocate on immigration issues, not only for her husband but for wider reform. The kids are growing up. The daughter she pushed in the stroller during that first march in 2017 is now six. Her oldest has his driver's permit.

But Alex Garcia is still there in that basement.

"Although mine and the kids' life has continued," Carly says, "his life has literally been on hold for the past three years."

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She says it breaks her heart to see her husband, a man who was always proud to support his family, forced to rely on the help of others. In an interview on Zoom, she and Garcia are polite but somber. They are grateful for all the support they have received in St. Louis, so much so that if Garcia is granted another stay of deportation, they plan to remain in the metro and continue to fight for others. The long-term goal is persuade Congress to change laws and create a path to citizenship for Garcia and others stuck in the web of U.S. immigration laws. But even if that happens, it will have come at a price. Garcia will have been in sanctuary 1,214 days by the time Trump exits office this week.

Asked if he would now make the same decision he did in 2017 had he known he would still be living in a basement more than three years later, Garcia pauses for a long while.

"I say I think it will be worth it," he says finally. "My hope is still there."

To keep himself busy, he has painted much of the church's interior by now and scoured the building for broken things to fix, small improvements to make. Asked what he would do the first day, if he is allowed to walk free in the world again, it seems like too big of a question. The past three-plus years have been filled with hopes raised and dashed. If he is allowing himself to imagine some other existence, he keeps it to himself.

But John and Cortés, his longtime advocates, suspect he'll do something quiet. Take a walk in the woods maybe, or just drive around to see where his kids go to school, where his family buys groceries. He's lived in St. Louis all this time without seeing St. Louis.

"I think we romanticize it and think maybe he'll go to Disney World," John says. "But he would probably love to go to Home Depot."

Cortés nods. "The man would love to go to Home Depot."



We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at doyle.murphy@riverfronttimes.com or follow on Twitter at @DoyleMurphy.
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