For Immediate Release
September 8, 2015
National Coalition Demands DOJ Drop Charges Retaliating Against Portland Labor Leader for Seeking Sanctuary in a Church
Portland, OR—Today, 118 labor, faith, immigrant rights, and civil rights organizations joined together to call on US Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Acting US Attorney Billy Williams to immediately drop the retaliatory prosecution of Portland labor leader Francisco Aguirre. Mr. Aguirre served as worker center coordinator for the VOZ Workers' Rights Education Project (VOZ) in Portland, a worker-led effort that empowers immigrants and day laborers to gain control over their working conditions through leadership development, organizing, and community education.
"Undocumented people should not be afraid that publicly standing up for their rights will lead to prosecution," says Francisco Aguirre. "I am asking the government to let me stay with my family and allow me to continue my work, defending immigrants and workers' rights."
One year ago, ICE agents came to Francisco's home and tried to arrest him without a warrant and separate him from his three children, two of whom are U.S. citizens. Francisco then publicly sought sanctuary in the Augustana Lutheran Church in Portland, Oregon. In a deeply unusual and likely political move, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) has charged Francisco with re-entry fifteen years after a previous deportation to El Salvador, which he had fled due to extreme violence against him and his family by the military.
Immigrant, labor, and faith leaders are calling on the DOJ to immediately drop all charges:
Romeo Sosa, Executive Director, VOZ
"Through Francisco's work as an organizer at VOZ, he has helped our workers collect $500,000 in stolen wages, helped improve health and safety labor standards, and organized neighborhood clean-ups.
"He is an absolutely indispensable part of our community."
Pablo Alvarado, Executive Director, National Day Laborer Organizing Network
"I have known Francisco since he had just recently arrived in the United States and didn't speak English. Since then, I have seen Francisco grow as an individual, as an organizer, and as a parent. He's gone from being a day laborer to becoming an organizer, starting day laborer centers and helping recover lost wages, to organizing to stop deportations. He has also learned to play guitar and has become a mariachi. Despite a lack of formal education, he even learned to fix computers. He was the star graduate of the leadership development program he attended. Francisco is incredibly intelligent and driven and excels at whatever he applies himself to. He has been one of the core grassroots day laborer leaders in the entire country.
"The country, Portland, his neighborhood, and the day laborer center all benefit deeply from having Francisco here serving his community."
Rev. Noel Andersen, National Grassroots Coordinator, Church World Service
"The Sanctuary Movement has been influential in lifting up the courageous stories of immigrant leaders who offer a prophetic witness by staying in churches to fight their deportation orders, so they can stay in the U.S. with their families. Faith communities in Portland and across the country have stood in solidarity with Francisco and seen his incredible capacity to mobilize the community for the common good.
"It is outrageous that the U.S. Attorney would prosecute Francisco on re-entry charges from over fifteen years ago, when ICE should clearly be implementing prosecutorial discretion. Francisco's positive equities and obvious dedication to his family and community are so apparent. We pray that the U.S. Attorney and Department of Justice find compassion in their hearts to keep this family united."