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Immigrant Activist Allowed to Stay in Vt.

Montpelier — Vermont immigrant activist Danilo Lopez has been granted a reprieve allowing him to remain in the United States for another year, in the form a “stay of removal” from federal immigration authorities.

Although he lacks the customary legal papers to remain in the country and has overstayed the July 5 date when he’d been ordered to leave, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told him he was being allowed to stay, Lopez said Tuesday through an interpreter.

The Vermont-based group Migrant Justice, which Lopez works with, had gotten unofficial word Monday from the governor’s office, which had been in touch with ICE, said organizer Brendan O’Neill.

Lopez was working on a dairy farm in Charlotte in 2011 when he came to public attention after a Vermont state trooper arrested him and turned him over to the U.S. Border Patrol. He’d been a passenger in a car that was stopped for speeding.

Lopez responded to his arrest by becoming an activist. He repeatedly advocated for a new Vermont law allowing immigrant farm workers in the country illegally to obtain a new type of Vermont driver’s license. The law passed this spring.

In an interview aided by an interpreter, Lopez, a 23-year-old farm worker from Chiapas, Mexico, said he had been helped in his bid to stay by an outpouring of public support, including letters saying he should be allowed to stay from Vermont’s four top elected officials.

Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Gov. Peter Shumlin all had written letters to ICE or its parent, the Department of Homeland Security, saying Lopez had become a productive member of the Vermont community and should be allowed to stay.

“This is about planting a seed. I am very fortunate to get all the support I got from my farm worker community and from the broader community,” Lopez said. “The lessons and work ahead is uniting with other people in other cases in a national movement.”

An organizer with an immigrant rights group, Tania Unzueta of the Washington-based National Day Laborers’ Organizing Network, said she had seen no previous case in which a state’s four most senior elected officials had spoken out in support of an immigrant’s request to stay in the U.S. despite a lack of legal status.

As for his future, Lopez said Tuesday that he wants to apply for a work visa and continue to work with Migrant Justice. He said he also planned to send money back to relatives in Mexico.

“I want to go on with life, a more normal life, continuing to support my family,” he said.