The First Unitarian Society of Denver Church, on the corner of 14th and Lafayette streets, has been home to Arturo Hernandez Garcia since October 21, 2014, when he officially sought sanctuary. He is fighting to stay in the United States under President Barack Obama's deferred action program. But in the meantime, the courts keep refusing his petitions.
See also: Arturo Garcia Talks About Broken: The Forgotten Children of Immigration
With help from the American Friends Service Committee and legal counsel, Garcia is trying to get his case re-opened. "I don't have a criminal record, I have more than ten years [in the United States], I have kids," Garcia explains. "I think I have a good case. But the courts say no."
As of May, Garcia could apply to stay in the country thanks to Obama's Deferred Action for Parents; under DAP, all parents of legal citizen children born on or before November 20, 2014 are eligible. But getting approved will take months, and Garcia is worried that he could be removed from his family and deported in the meantime.
On December 2, Garcia's wife, Ana, as well as their two daughters, traveled to Washington, D.C. to try to halt his deportation. While there, they met with two officials from the Department of Homeland Security and members of the Colorado Congressional delegation. Representatives Diana DeGette, Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter all signed on to a request for "stay of removal" for Garcia, and the day after the family returned to Denver, Garcia's attorney sent in the paperwork to re-open his case. He has yet to hear back.
Representative Diana DeGette was among officials to sign a "stay of removal" request for Garcia.Before he took sanctuary, Garcia worked as a contractor, laying tile; he had his own business. In 2010, another construction worker became angry with him and started to yell racial slurs and got physical; the cops were called.
After the altercation at the job site, Garcia was held in jail for thirty days. Eventually he was cleared of all charges, but by then, his undocumented status had been brought to the attention of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. And as soon as he was released from jail, he was put in a detention center. "People see immigrants like criminals. It's not true," he says.
Colorado has been Garcia's home for fifteen years; he came here from Chihuahua, Mexico on a visa in 1999, and stayed after the visa expired. His oldest daughter, Mariana, was about three months old when the family moved here. His younger daughter, Andrea, is nine; she was born here and currently goes to school in Thornton. Because Andrea is a citizen, Garcia is eligible for DAP -- if he isn't deported first.
While he waits for action on his case, Garcia keeps busy by helping out around the church, exercising, watching TV, and spending time with his family when they visit. His time in sanctuary has been stressful on his wife and kids: "They separate a lot of families," he says of the government.
He moved here to create a better future for his family, he adds. Now he just wants to stay with his family.
According to the New Sanctuary Movement pledge on the First Unitarian Society of Denver's website, "We stand together in our faith that everyone, regardless of national origin, has basic common rights, including but not limited to: 1) livelihood; 2) family unity; and 3) physical and emotional safety. We witness the violation of these rights under current immigration policy, particularly in the separation of children from their parents due to unjust deportations, and in the exploitation of immigrant workers."
Since Garcia has been at the First Unitarian Society for three months, his situation will soon be reviewed. His sanctuary there will either be extended by another three months, or he will be have to transition to another religious organization while he waits for action on his case.
Have a tip? E-mail editorial at westword.com.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.