- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) — Pro-immigration groups across the country are taking up the cause of an illegal alien who is trying to take refuge in a Chicago church rather than submit to deportation to Mexico.

Elvira Arellano, 31, was holed up for a second day yesterday at Aldalberto United Methodist Church with the support of the congregation’s pastor. With her was her 7-year-old son, Saul, a U.S. citizen.

Federal officials said there is no right to sanctuary in a church under U.S. law and nothing to prevent them from arresting her. But they would not say what they planned to do, or when. The protest raised the spectacle of agents barging into a church and dragging her out.

“She is the face of the movement,” said Emma Lozano, executive director of the Chicago immigration rights group Centro Sin Fronteras, who was at the church with Miss Arellano, who is president of United Latino Family, which lobbies for families that could be split by deportation.

In Phoenix, Martin Manteca of Mi Familia Vota said Hispanic activist groups were organizing a vigil in her support. Miss Lozano, whose group name means “center without borders,” said an event also was scheduled in Detroit.

Miss Arellano also has attracted attention from political officials including Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has voiced his support. A few dozen supporters gathered at the storefront church, sitting in the pews and praying for Miss Arellano. But the doors were not barricaded, and there were no apparent efforts to fortify the church.

Miss Arellano had been ordered to appear at the immigration office in Chicago at 9 a.m. Tuesday, but instead went to the church, where she is an active member. She said that if authorities want her, they will have to come and get her.

“My son is a U.S. citizen,” she told reporters. “He doesn’t want me to go anywhere, so I’m going to stay with him.”

The Rev. Walter Coleman said his congregation offered Miss Arellano refuge after praying about her plight. Mr. Coleman said he does not think Miss Arellano should have to choose between leaving her son behind or removing him from his home.

“She represents the voice of the undocumented, and we think it’s our obligation, our responsibility, to make a stage for that voice to be heard,” he said.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said there is nothing to prevent the U.S. government from arresting Miss Arellano at the church.

“Ms. Arellano willfully violated U.S. immigration laws and is now facing the consequences of her actions by failing to report to immigration authorities,” said agency spokeswoman Gail Montenegro. “We will arrest and deport her as required by law at an appropriate time and place.”

Joel Fetzer, associate professor of political science at Pepperdine University in California, said: “If the government comes in … it would look very bad.”

Miss Arellano illegally crossed into the United States in 1997 and was deported shortly afterward. She returned within days, living for three years in Oregon before moving to Chicago in 2000. Arrested two years later at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, where she was working as a cleaning woman, she was convicted of working under a false Social Security number and ordered to appear at the immigration office in Chicago.

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