PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice has dropped a charge of illegal re-entry against an immigrant activist who took refuge at an Oregon church in 2014 to avoid deportation.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Nyhus wrote in a May 27 motion to dismiss the charge against Francisco Aguirre that it was "in the interest of justice." Nyhus and a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Portland did not return messages seeking further explanation Friday.
Aguirre, the father of two children who are U.S. citizens, still faces possible deportation. He said in a statement he wants immigration authorities to stop targeting his family.
"This initial victory is proof that when we come together, we can win," Aguirre said. "The only way to ensure justice for migrants is if we come together as a community and defend our basic human rights."
Aguirre came to the U.S. from El Salvador illegally in the 1990s, and was deported in 2000 after he was caught selling heroin and cocaine in Portland.
He re-entered the country and became an immigrant-rights activist and the coordinator of a nonprofit that runs a day labor center. He came to the attention of immigration authorities in 2014 following an arrest for driving under the influence.
Asked for an update on the status of his case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lori K. Haley said in an email they weren't going to speculate on the case's next steps.
"The Department of Homeland Security's immigration enforcement focus continues to be on individuals who pose a public safety threat, including those with prior felony drug trafficking convictions," Haley wrote.
But Olga Tomchin, staff attorney for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, said an ICE agent recently served Aguirre with notice that it plans a fast-track deportation process that doesn't include a hearing before an immigration judge.
Tomchin said the process is generally reserved for people serving a prison sentence, with the idea that they will be returned to their home countries immediately after their release. It's unusual, she said, for it to be used against someone based off a conviction from 1999.
"If he didn't have a very strong legal team, and a big community that was fighting for him, then he would likely not understand what to do and be deported very quickly," she said.
Supporters of Aguirre contend he has made positive contributions to the community during his many years in Portland and should be allowed to remain with his family. They add that's he's also grieving the death of a 19-year-old son from a prior relationship who was murdered in El Salvador fourth months ago.
A rally for Aguirre is scheduled for Sunday at Augustana Lutheran Church, the place where he sought sanctuary.