Undocumented immigrant Francisco Aguirre is gaining the support of the Portland community after spending nearly a week in church. According to CBS News, the immigrant activist, who has lived in the U.S. for nearly 20 years, has been staying at Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon, and has promised to stay there until his immigration case is solved. He’s currently at risk of being deported back to El Salvador because of an old drug conviction and a previous deportation.
Aguirre, the coordinator of a nonprofit in Portland that runs a day labor center, is also a father to two children who are U.S. citizens. He’s disputing the drug charges against him and said that he was innocent, the source reported.
Aguirre is staying at Augustana Lutheran Church because federal officials don’t typically venture into sensitive locations such as churches to arrest people. As a result, CBS said that churches across the country have opened their doors to undocumented immigrants who are at risk of being deported. It’s becoming more common for undocumented immigrants to use churches as a place to go as Congress continually fails to address immigration reform.
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales supports Aguirre, as do many churches and other local leaders in the area. According to the source, churches and local leaders cite his 10 years as an organizer for immigrant and labor rights and status as a family man as reasons that he should be permitted to stay in the U.S.
“Francisco Aguirre has been a community leader in Portland and an important voice on issues of equity and immigrant rights … I believe Francisco should remain in the United States, and in Portland, until his case can reach a humane conclusion,” Hales said in a statement.
Aguirre was arrested for small-time drug dealing in Portland in December 1998, when he was just 19 years old. According to CBS, Aguirre argues the evidence used against him was fabricated and untrue. He claimed that what really happened during the incident was that he gave two homeless men a place to sleep. Those men also happened to have drugs. He also said that his lawyer gave him bad advice and he was unable to defend himself due to the language barrier because he wasn’t able to speak English.
Aguirre’s lawyer is currently attempting to get him a U-visa, a special document for violent-crime victims who help police investigate and prosecute cases.