Immigration protester back at Chicago church that sheltered her

An undocumented Mexican immigrant returned this weekend to the Chicago church where she once famously lived for a year seeking refuge from federal authorities.

Elvira Arellano, deported in 2007, re-crossed the border last week near San Diego to protest U.S. immigration laws, specifically ones she says often keeps families living in two different countries.

Arellano, with her 5-month- and 15-year-old sons, was arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials upon entering the country. After a brief detention, Arellano and her baby were released on supervision and await a September hearing where she can plead her case for asylum, said her attorney Chris Bergin. The teenager, Saul, is a U.S. citizen.

Arellano is allowed to travel, Bergin said, and arrived in Chicago early Sunday morning. While she awaits her hearing she will again live at the Adalberto United Methodist Church, which previously took her in, her attorney said.

Arellano, citing “the Lord’s help,” met a small group of supporters at Midway Airport shortly after midnight. She said she was happy to be home.

“Not even I imagined that I’d be able to return,” she said in Spanish after deplaning. “When I decided to join this action I thought they’d maybe place me in a federal detention center, like my attorney said was possible. But thank God I’m here. I only give thanks to God that now I can be here with my son and he can have a better future.”

Arellano said she wants to continue to speak out about immigration laws and deportation practices, and hopes to remain in the country — where Saul typically spends summers.

At a late morning service at Lincoln United Methodist Church, supporters packed the pews to hear Arellano speak about her plight and her commitment to continue to fight for change. Many of those supporters also emotionally told their own stories of family members being deported and effectively separated from loved ones.

“The fight doesn’t stop when a mother is separated from her son,” Arellano said at Midway. “The fight stops when we don’t want to be part of it. As long as the immigration politics of President Obama don’t change, we’ll continue to see this type of action in favor of families so they can return home.”

Arellano was first arrested in 1997 after crossing the border into the U.S. She was sent back to Mexico but returned years later only to be convicted of working as a cleaning woman at O’Hare under a false Social Security number.

She took refuge at Adalberto United Methodist Church in 2006, claiming that if she was again deported, her son, Saul, also would be effectively deported and deprived of his rights as a U.S. citizen. At the time she garnered national attention and said her situation illustrated the plight of millions of illegal immigrants.

With Saul, then 8, she eventually departed the safety of the church to participate in a march for immigration reform, and was arrested and eventually deported to Mexico.

Bergin said he would pursue “quite a few different avenues of relief” to keep her in the country.

“I think Elvira was thinking we need to do this for the parents of kids who are citizens, to kind of highlight the tearing apart of families by the immigration system,” he said. “So I guess that’s kind of her motivation, to kind of bring it right at the government and right at Obama and say, ‘What are you going to do?’ “ | Twitter: @knthayer | Twitter: @PerezJr

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Immigration protester back at Chicago church that sheltered her
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