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Hiding in Churches Becoming Increasingly Common Among Undocumented Immigrants

With the recent influx of undocumented immigrants from Central American countries that has taken place over the last several months, one of the emerging trends among them is hiding from immigration authorities in local churches. One such immigrant from El Salvador did just that after having been in the United States for almost twenty years. Francisco Aguirre has been living as an undocumented immigrant in the US since 1995. He has two children who were born in the country during that time and who are, as a result, US citizens. Aguirre faces being deported, however, for the second time since he first arrived because of a conviction for drug trafficking several years ago that got him sent back to El Salvador. He spent the weekend last week hiding out in a church in Portland, Oregon.

Churches Providing Sanctuary

During the nearly two decades that Aguirre has been living illegally in the United States he has become ensconced in his community in Portland. He is the coordinator of a nonprofit organization called VOZ Workers’ Right Education Project and has become a staple of the city’s immigration activism scene. But Aguirre’s situation is not unique. Over the last ten years there have been scores of undocumented immigrants hiding out in churches all over the US. Some estimates have as many as 300 of them claiming a willingness to receive immigrants with open arms because church administrators – and the immigrants themselves – know that Immigration officials typically refrain from making arrests inside places of worship.

Aguirre a Priority for ICE Officials

In the case of Francisco Aguirre, he has stated that he is prepared to remain inside the church in Portland until his immigration case is heard and he is currently being processed for what is known as a U-Visa – authorization for illegals who have been the victims of criminal acts and who have assisted law enforcement in prosecuting other cases.

Aguirre began his time in the United States working as a day laborer and helping to start the workers’ rights project. He also works from his home running a computer repair business. According to immigration officials, though, he was convicted of drug trafficking in 200 and sent back to El Salvador. Shortly after being deported, Aguirre came back to the United States and entered illegally once again and has been living in Portland, Oregon ever since. He was arrested in August of this year for driving under the influence and has been a target for immigration officials for the last two months.

But Aguirre is more than just another target for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. He is a priority because of his drug trafficking conviction, his previous deportation, and his recent arrest. ICE considers him to be a threat to public safety and as such he is being sought with extra effort with the intent of being deported once again. He has maintained his innocence in the drug trafficking case for the last 14 years since his conviction but was told by his lawyer at the time to enter a plea of ‘no contest’. He now says that he wishes he had not taken his attorney’s advice at the time so that maybe he wouldn’t feel the need to hide out in a church now.

If you or someone you know is in need of legal counsel regarding an immigration issue, please contact the immigration attorney at the Lyttle Law Firm in Austin, Texas or call their offices at 512-215-5225.

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