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Working In These Times

Thursday, Oct 2, 2014, 1:40 pm

Portland Church Fights a Worker Center Activist’s Deportation—And a Broken Immigration System

BY Kevin Solari

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Immigrant rights activists demand an end to deportations at a 2007 rally in Minnesota. (pigstyave / Flickr)  

President Obama has punted fixing our immigration system until after the midterm elections, but families continue suffering under it. On September 30, Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church of Portland, Oregon, hosted a service to show support for labor activist Francisco Aguirre. Aguirre has been residing in the church since September 19 after Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials showed up at his door.

Aguirre has received widespread community support. According to The Oregonian:

More than a week after Aguirre began living in a private room in the church basement, representatives from multiple organizations and offices announced their support for Aguirre at Tuesday's interfaith service. 

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish said the City Council stood in solidarity with Aguirre. Last week, Portland Mayor Charlie Hales also announced his support.

Other supporters sang songs and said they were praying for Aguirre's application for a U Visa — a nonimmigrant visa for victims of serious crimes — to be approved.

Aguirre is active in the VOZ Worker’s Rights Education Project. The organization “is a worker-led organization that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions through leadership development, organizing and community education.”

During his speech at Tuesday’s rally, Aguirre described his experiences working as a day laborer when he first came to the U.S. In one instance, he was hired to trim trees and broke his arm. His employer drove him to the hospital and left him there, paying neither the hospital nor Aguirre.

“At that moment I decided that I should learn about the laws of this country,” Aguirre said on Tuesday. “I decided that I want to learn about workers’ rights… I became a human rights promoter and I started helping my community.”

Aguirre has been living in America for nearly 20 years, except for a brief deportation back to El Salvador in 2000, following an arrest for drug trafficking.

“I’m part of this community,” Aguirre said shortly after his sanctuary began. “This is where I belong, and this is where I want to stay.”

Kevin is an educator and freelance writer in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter at @kevinsolari_.

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