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Immigrant who hid in US church temporarily freed

November 8, 2014

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — A federal judge on Friday ordered the temporary release of an immigrant activist who took refuge at an Oregon church to avoid deportation and was arrested this week on federal charge of illegal re-entry.

Judge Janice Stewart ordered Francisco Aguirre to be released while he’s awaiting the start of his trial on Jan. 13. Aguirre pleaded not guilty to his charge in court.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials confirmed ICE has lifted its detainer on Aguirre, meaning his removal from the U.S. is on hold pending the outcome of his criminal case.

Aguirre, who came to the U.S. from El Salvador nearly two decades ago, was arrested Thursday at a county court. He was there to settle a case of driving under the influence.

The arrest stems from a past criminal case: Aguirre was deported in 2000 after a drug conviction; he then unlawfully re-entered the country.

Aguirre, 35, came to the attention of authorities in August after a driving under the influence arrest. He took refuge at Portland’s Augustana Lutheran Church in September.

Aguirre is among those who have taken sanctuary in U.S. churches in recent years because authorities generally don’t make arrests in places of worship.

The father of two children who are U.S. citizens is now the coordinator of a Portland nonprofit that runs a day labor center. His supporters, who include Portland’s mayor, say Aguirre has positively contributed to his community during the past decade and should be allowed to remain in the U.S. with his family.

A crowd of supporters packed Portland’s federal magistrate’s court to capacity on Friday. Aguirre’s wife, Dora Reyna, wiped away tears in the front row when Aguirre walked in wearing blue jail scrubs.

His attorney, Ellen Pitcher, said Aguirre had been “kidnapped, tortured, and otherwise abused as a child” in his country of birth, and had “no intention of taking flight to El Salvador.”

Aguirre’s release conditions include a ban on travel outside Oregon, a ban on changing his place of residence, and surrender of all travel documents.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Nyhus, who is prosecuting the case, declined to comment.

Aguirre’s immigration lawyer, Stephen Manning, had said Aguirre was in the process of obtaining a U-visa, a special document for violent-crime victims who help authorities investigate or prosecute cases.

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