Immigration Activist to Leave Sanctuary

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 15, 2007; 2:59 AM

CHICAGO -- A woman who has come to personify the struggles of illegal immigrant parents says that for the first time in a year she will venture beyond the walls of the church that has protected her from deportation.

Elvira Arellano took refuge inside Aldalberto United Methodist Church on Aug. 15, 2006, and has lived there on the second floor with her 8-year-old son Saul, who is a U.S. citizen.

She hasn't left the church for fear of being sent back to Mexico and separated from her son.

She was to announce Wednesday that she plans a Sept. 12 trip to Washington to lobby Congress for immigration reform, according to the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of the church and longtime Chicago political activist.

It's not clear how she'll get there, but she likely won't be flying, Coleman told The Associated Press Tuesday. He and others worry Arellano will be arrested, but she plans to go anyway.

"I will go with my Bible and my son and I will read to him from the Holy Scriptures as I do every day," Arellano said in a statement sent Tuesday to The AP. "If this government would separate me from my son, let them do it in front of the men and women who have the responsibility to fix this broken law and uphold the principles of human dignity."

Whether Arellano will continue her sanctuary at the church is unclear.

The 32-year-old says she has been too comfortable there and needs to "join the struggle" outside.

In the past year, Arellano has reignited an interest in a sanctuary movement across the U.S. with her continued public defiance and her belief that the U.S. knowingly exploits illegal immigrants.

But she's also drawn criticism from many who say she is part of an orchestrated movement and exploits her U.S.-born son by having him speak at news conferences.

There is no doubt, however, of her reach.

"She's a household figure at this point and her story is well known because people can relate to it," said Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Associated Press