By BARRY MASSEY
The Associated Press
Friday, November 17, 2006; 6:30 PM
SANTA FE, N.M. -- Gov. Bill Richardson has asked President Bush to come to the aid of an illegal immigrant who has taken refuge in a Chicago church to avoid being deported to Mexico.
Richardson has followed Elvira Arellano's case in news reports and considers her family's plight a "perfect example" of why immigration reform is necessary, his spokesman Jon Goldstein said.
Arellano, a former cleaning woman at O'Hare International Airport convicted of using a false Social Security number, has been in the church since August. Her 7-year-old, U.S.-born son, Saul, this week traveled to Mexico and successfully lobbied its Chamber of Deputies to call for the U.S. Congress to suspend the deportation of illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens.
"The Arellano case puts a spotlight on the danger of not acting on a comprehensive immigration plan," Richardson wrote Wednesday in a letter to Bush that was released by the governor's office Thursday. "Inaction puts our most vulnerable citizens _ the estimated three million American citizen children of illegal immigrants _ at risk."
The governor, whose mother is from Mexico, said that deporting Arellano will create a "terrible choice" for the family _ forcing the boy to leave his mother if he stays in the U.S. or "forfeit his right to grow up an American."
The White House referred questions to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency "is required to enforce immigration laws fairly, regardless of a person's ability to generate publicity," said Gail Montenegro, an ICE spokeswoman in Chicago.
She said the agency considers Arellano one of "nearly 600,000 immigration fugitives residing in the United States."
"This country's immigration system, as generous as it is, is not to be exploited," she said.
Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor, won re-election this month to a second four-year term. He is considering a bid for the 2008 Democratic nomination for president and says he will make a decision in January.
Immigration hasn't become as contentious a political issue in New Mexico as it has in some other states. The state allows illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license, and children of illegal immigrants qualify for in-state college tuition.