Mon | Dec 5, 2016

Portland immigrant takes sanctuary at church

Published:Wednesday | September 24, 2014 | 12:00 AM
AP In this September 19, 2014 photo, while surrounded by a group of supporters, Francisco Aguirre speaks in Portland, Oregon. Aguirre, who has lived illegally in the US for 19 years and has two children who are American citizens, is facing deportation due to a drug trafficking conviction 15 years ago and a previous deportation, authorities said.

OREGON (AP): A community activist who first came to the US from El Salvador nearly two decades ago spent the weekend hidden in an Oregon church, becoming the latest immigrant to seek sanctuary as authorities try to deport him.

Francisco Aguirre, who has lived illegally in the US for 19 years and has two children who are American citizens, is facing deportation due to a drug trafficking conviction 15 years ago and a previous deportation, authorities said.

Aguirre, 35, is now the coordinator of the Voz Workers' Rights Education Project, a Portland non-profit organisation that runs a day labour centre. He's a well-known immigrant rights organiser and a musician who performs songs about social justice.

His case marks the first time in recent years that an immigrant has been granted sanctuary inside an Oregon church. During the past decade, as reform has stalled, churches around the country have offered refuge to immigrants who lack legal status.

Experts estimate about 300 congregations nationwide are willing and ready to give sanctuary to such immigrants. Immigration officials generally do not arrest people inside churches and other places of worship.

Aguirre has vowed to remain at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland until he's able to resolve his immigration case.

His immigration lawyer Stephen Manning said Aguirre is in the process of obtaining a visa, a special document for crime victims who help authorities investigate or prosecute cases.

Aguirre says he first entered the US illegally in 1995. He worked as a day labourer and helped found the non-profit group that operates the day labour centre. Aguirre also runs a computer repair business from his home.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said Aguirre was deported to El Salvador in 2000 following a conviction for drug trafficking offences. He then unlawfully re-entered the country, spokesman Andrew Munoz said in a statement.