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Javier Flores García, with his family, members of the organization Together and the Rev. Robin Hynicka, at the entrance of the United Methodist Church, Center City. Photo: Samantha Laub/AL DÍA News
Javier Flores García, with his family, members of the organization Together and the Rev. Robin Hynicka, at the entrance of the United Methodist Church, Center City. Photo: Samantha Laub/AL DÍA News

The Philadelphia immigrant who won a battle against ICE

After spending nearly a year in the United Methodist Church in the city center, Javier Flores García is free once again.

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Hidden in the jungle

May 26th, 2022

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Javier Flores, the undocumented immigrant who, after the results of last November's presidential election, decided to seek refuge in the United Methodist Church of Arch and Broad Street to avoid imminent deportation, has set foot once again in the streets of Philadelphia on Wednesday.

He did it hand in hand with his family, with an electronic shackle on his ankle, and an ongoing process for obtaining a U visa; a benefit he aspires to after being the victim of an attempted murder in 2004, when he helped the authorities to capture the perpetrators, according to a statement from Juntos, an humanitarian organization.

"I am very grateful to all the media, to the community and to the church that opened the doors to me and to Juntos, they've been with me during this whole process; but most of all I want to thank my lawyer [because] if it hadn’t been for him effort, we would not have achieved this triumph today, to be with my children, with my family," were his first words, facing the street.

Javier spent little more than 10 and a half months in the church, where he arrived seeking refuge with a deportation order over his head. That order was frozen after Brennan Gian-Grasso, his lawyer, managed to file a lawsuit in 2015 to get a U visa.

According to Gian-Grasso, those who have applied for this type of visa in 2014 are getting it now, which makes him think that within a year Javier would get his own nonimmigrant temporary status. "Then he can file for residence," the lawyer said.

According to Érika Almirón, director of Juntos - an organization that has accompanied Javier's case for two and a half years - this Wednesday marks a victory that, in her words, “shows that resistance and unity are the best weapons” to face these times of persecution.

For his part, the Rev. Robin Hynicka noted that Javier's is primarily "a love story," whose protagonists are the women who surrounded, protected and accompanied him throughout this time. "Fierce love that won't let family go (...) Love wins today," he said.

The truth is that Javier's sacrifice begins to bear fruit and yes, it is a victory from every single point of view: because not many manage to stop a deportation order, block ICE, and manage to walk freely with a smile on their face, back to a normal life.

Javier arrived in the United States from Mexico. He settled in 1997 in Philadelphia. He was deported a couple of times but always returned for the same reason: to be with his loved ones. In 2004 he was the victim of an assault and an attempted murder. Before taking refuge in the United Methodist Church, he spent 16 months in detention at the York County Detention Center.

For now, Javier can go easy. He said that the first thing he would do when he’d get home would be "what every dad wants: to walk with his children." The challenge is to get a job and rebuild a life next to his close ones.

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