PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – An immigrant activist who took refuge at an Oregon church to avoid deportation and was arrested this week on a federal charge of illegal re-entry has been temporarily released on a federal judge's order.
Judge Janice Stewart on Friday ordered Francisco Aguirre to be released while he's awaiting the start of his trial on Jan. 13. Aguirre pleaded not guilty to the charge in court.
Aguirre's supporters confirmed Friday night that he had been released and was returning to Portland's Augustana Lutheran Church, his refuge since September.
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 came to the U.S. from El Salvador nearly two decades ago. He was arrested Thursday at a county court, where he had gone to settle a case of driving under the influence.
The federal arrest stems from a past criminal case. Aguirre was deported in 2000 after a drug conviction; the government says he then unlawfully re-entered the country.
Records show the 35-year-old was indicted by a grand jury in September on the illegal re-entry charge.
Aguirre came to the attention of authorities in August after a DUI arrest. He took refuge at Augustana Lutheran Church in September, after authorities tried to detain him at home. The agents did not have a warrant, so they could not enter his home.
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, including the pastor of the church where Aguirre took sanctuary, 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, told the judge that Aguirre did not plan to run. She said he 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 in Oregon, declined to comment.
Nearly all of those sentenced in federal court for unlawful re-entry received a prison sentence, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. On average, the sentence length for these offenders was about two years.
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.