After year of sanctuary in Philadelphia, father leaves church

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Father able to leave sanctuary church: Katherine Scott reports during Action News at 12:30 p.m. on October 11, 2017.

To cheers, Javier Flores García walked out of the Arch Street United Methodist Church in Center City Philadelphia Wednesday, having won his deportation case.

The victory came 11 months after Garcia sought sanctuary here.

"It was a hard journey," Garcia's daughter, Adamaris Lopez, told Action News. "I am very excited to have dad home."

Garcia has been in Philadelphia since 1997.

He crossed the border from Mexico on foot, met his wife and had children, all of whom are now U.S. citizens.

Authorities deported Garcia multiple times, but he kept returning to reunite with his family.

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Man living in sanctuary free to leave. Matt O'Donnell reports during Action News at 6:30 a.m. on October 11, 2017.

He spent 15 months in a detention center for re-entering the country, and last November 13, on the eve of his deportation, he sought sanctuary in this church.

"It's not about hiding or fugitives," said attorney Brennan Gian-Grasso. "It's about seeking justice."

Since then, Garcia has performed odd jobs, waiting for the outcome of his petition for legal status.

He feared leaving, being arrested and deported by agents from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

His ankle bracelet provides them with his location at all times.

RELATED: Father of 3 seeks sanctuary in Center City church
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Javier Flores, a father of three, held back tears as he explained why he will continue to accept sanctuary inside the Arch Street United Methodist Church.

Places of worship are deemed sensitive by ICE, and the agency generally avoids conducting enforcement actions in them.

"It is when we resist that we win, united that we win," said Erika Almiron, Executive Director of the activist group Juntos.

In 2004, Garcia was convicted of DUI but was given probation rather than jail time.

But something else happened that year. Garcia and his brother were attacked with box cutters, by two other undocumented immigrants.

He worked with law enforcement to capture the men, which made him eligible for a U-Visa, reserved for crime victims who cooperate with investigators.

"This is a victory we will savor, and those victories are too far between," said Rev. Robin Hynicka of Arch Street United Methodist.

Garcia plans to stay in Northeast Philadelphia. He told Action News he will now look for ways to support his family.
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