PORTLAND — He came to this country illegally 10 years ago to earn enough money to support his mother and siblings.

And over the years, Selvin Arevalo became a respected member of Portland’s Hispanic community.

Now, just a week before he is to receive his high school diploma, Arevalo faces deportation.

Arevalo’s friends and several community leaders gathered Wednesday outside the Cumberland County Jail, where he has been held since April, to ask that he be released.

Unless his deportation is postponed, they say, there is little hope that Arevalo can avoid being sent back to Guatemala. They planned an all-night vigil to focus public attention on his situation and bring pressure on Congress to reform immigration laws.

“Selvin is like any one of us. He came to this country looking to better himself,” said his close friend Isai “Jessy” Galvez. “He supports his two brothers, a sister and his mother, who had open-heart surgery.

“He has shown that he is a benefit to our society. It would be a tragedy to send him back now,” said Galvez, 20, who attends college in Portland.

Arevalo was taken into custody in April by federal immigration officials after he fled from the scene of a minor accident involving his work van. He did not have a driver’s license, Galvez said.

Arevalo, 24, is scheduled to receive his General Equivalency Diploma on June 3 from Portland’s Adult Education Program. He has attended night school on and off for several years.

Beth Stickney, a lawyer who serves as executive director for the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, said, “Selvin’s case has gotten this much attention because he has become an outstanding member of Portland’s Latino community.”

She didn’t know Wednesday when Arevalo’s deportation hearing will be held.

Stickney said Congress changed immigration laws in 1996 to make it harder for illegal immigrants to remain in the U.S. They can no longer appeal their deportation to a judge.

Unless a member of Maine’s congressional delegation sponsors a “private bill” allowing him to stay, Stickney said, his best option is to be released and hope that Congress reforms immigration laws this summer.

If Arevalo is released, Stickney said, he could seek voluntary deportation, a process in which an immigration judge could grant him a stay here of as much as 120 days.

That could give Arevalo a reprieve, and hope that Congress might pass legislation allowing him to remain in the United States.

Private bills are rare; only five or so are enacted each year.

Last year, the Senate considered the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, which would let undocumented students become permanent residents if they came here as children, or are long-term residents, have good moral character, attend college or enlist in the military for at least two years.

The bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Kevin Kelley, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.

Kelley said Collins was in a closed-door Senate Armed Services Committee meeting late Wednesday and could not be reached.

John Gentzel, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, would say only that Snowe has been a supporter of immigration reform and strong border security.

“Senator Snowe carefully reviews all legislation thoroughly before making a determination, and will do the same with this bill,” Gentzel said.

Over the last 10 years, Arevalo has worked as a house painter to support his family back in Guatemala.

Galvez said his friend has grown as a person and as a member of the community. He has become a fluent English speaker and is active in the Iglesia El Sinai Pentecostal Christian Church on Brighton Avenue in Portland.

For community leaders like the Rev. Virginia Marie Rincon, Arevalo’s brush with the law is not as important as what he has given to his community.

“Selvin is not a criminal. We must make every effort to stay the deportation of this young man, who believed in the American dream,” Rincon said. “He left his family to pursue his dream.”

Galvez said Guatemalan gangs are extremely violent. They recruit young men, which was one of the reasons Arevalo fled his homeland.

“He has proven he should be here,” Galvez said. “Maine is the only home he has known for the past 10 years. To send him back now would mean certain death.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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