Oct. 11, 2006 – Two months after she was ordered deported by the Department of Homeland Security, Elvira Arellano, who is still taking sanctuary in a church in Humboldt Park, Chicago, has become a symbol for undocumented parents fighting to stay in the US with their citizen children.
Arellano is taking refuge in the Adalberto United Methodist Church, hoping government agents will not enter to detain and deport her. Although Arellanoâ€™s initial stand was an individual one, she has since shifted to protesting in the name of the tens of thousands of US citizen children with undocumented parents.
"If they come to get me, the nation will see what they do to families," Arellano told The NewStandard during an interview at the church. "Weâ€™re calling on all community organizations, all people nationally to rise up for legalization and justice for all."
If deportations of undocumented immigrants are carried out on a mass scale as some anti-immigrant politicians and activists have proposed, scores of families will be broken up and children will be left in the US without their parents.
Last month, a federal judge denied a lawsuit filed on behalf of Arellanoâ€™s seven-year-old son Saul, alleging his civil rights would be violated if his mother were deported.
Arellanoâ€™s cause has rallied powerful and well-seasoned allies. Her stand comes at a time when anti-immigrant fervor is being stoked by political campaigning, and while tensions between blacks and Latinos are simmering. But Arellano has drawn support from black leaders, and her campaign is being run out of a church in a Puerto Rican neighborhood largely by activists with long histories in multi-ethnic organizing.
The strip of Division Street where Arellano is living was ground zero for the movement that led to the freeing of Puerto Rican nationalist prisoners in 1999 after a nearly two-decade struggle. The pastor of the church, Walter Coleman, was a key community leader in the campaign to elect Chicagoâ€™s first black mayor, Harold Washington, in 1983 â€“ a campaign that brought together black, Chicano, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Appalachian and other disenfranchised communities.
The group Centro Sin Fronteras has also been central in Arellanoâ€™s defense; they have a long history of fighting for immigrantsâ€™ rights and promoting Puerto Rican-Mexican unity.
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley has publicly supported Arellano, and Chicago police are barred from asking immigrants about their immigration status.
The administration of Cook County, which includes Chicago, is currently considering a "sanctuary" resolution which would prevent county employees from asking about immigration status and ensure undocumented immigrants have access to all county services.
"Iâ€™m disobeying the law but the people are with me," said Arellano.
Arellanoâ€™s actions echo the sanctuary movement of the 1980s when Central American refugees, fleeing civil wars, took shelter in US churches to avoid being returned to homelands to face political persecution.
Homeland Security officials have said they have the power to detain Arellano wherever she is; there is no legal guarantee of sanctuary in a church.