Portland labor activist Francisco Aguirre-Velasquez wants U.S. immigration charge dismissed

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Bryan Denson
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Monday, July 6, 2015
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Portland labor activist Juan Francisco Aguirre-Velasquez asked a federal judge Monday to dismiss charges that he illegally re-entered the United States after he was convicted of drug delivery charges and deported in 1999.

Aguirre-Velasquez, who twice escaped the brutal regime of his native El Salvador, claimed in court papers that the immigration judge who handled his 1999 deportation proceedings violated his due process by failing to correctly explain the range of options available to him.

"Only because (Immigration Judge Michael) Bennett incorrectly informed Mr. Aguirre-Velasquez that he would be detained indefinitely if his request for suspension of deportation was granted, did Mr. Aguirre-Velasquez withdraw his request for relief and acquiesce to be removed (from the U.S)," his lawyer, Ellen C. Pitcher, wrote in court papers.

"Because there is no other basis for the prosecution," Pitcher wrote, "the indictment must be dismissed."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory R. Nyhus, representing federal immigration officials, disagreed with Pitcher's argument. In legal papers, he asked Senior District Judge Robert E. Jones to deny Pitcher's motion.

"Simply put," Nyhus wrote, "as an aggravated felon, the defendant was not entitled to the relief requested and had no other plausible method of relief available to him. Therefore, his removal would still have occurred even if the immigration judge had provided correct information."

Jones took the matter under advisement and is expected to file a written opinion.

Aguirre-Velasquez, who received three years of probation on the drug charges, faced new travails last summer, after he was stopped for drunken driving. He blew .12 on the blood-alcohol test, higher than the legal limit in Oregon of .08.

He took refuge last September in Augustana Lutheran Church in Northeast Portland, where congregants took him in as part of the sanctuary movement. Later that month, a federal grand jury indicted him for illegally re-entering the U.S. after his deportation.

The sanctuary movement protects immigrants such as Aguirre-Velasquez, who made a name for himself standing up for oppressed workers after facing the horrors of war as a youth in El Salvador...

The nation's sanctuary movement came under criticism after Francisco Sanchez, a 45-year-old repeat drug offender from Mexico, was arrested in San Francisco following last Wednesday's shooting death of Kathryn Steinle.

News accounts suggested that Sanchez, deported five times, came to the city because of its status as a sanctuary, opening criticism of the movement by the U.S. immigration officials and others.