- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

LOS ANGELES (AP) — An 8-year-old boy has become a star attraction at pro-immigration events since his mother took refuge in a Chicago church before she was deported to Mexico.

Now, even some inside the immigration movement are questioning whether Saul Arellano is being exploited.

“It’s almost like an act of desperation on our part. Why is it that we need to depend upon a child?” said Armando Navarro, coordinator of the National Alliance for Human Rights, an umbrella organization for Hispanic groups in Southern California.

Saul’s mother, Elvira Arellano, was in the United States illegally for several years before taking sanctuary at Chicago’s Adalberto United Methodist Church, where she lived with her son for a year in defiance of a deportation order.

She left the church last month to speak to other immigrants across the country and was arrested in Los Angeles by immigration authorities. They deported her to Tijuana, Mexico.

Hours after her arrest, Saul was brought to a press conference where supporters denounced her detention. He didn’t look into the cameras or speak, instead hiding behind his godmother.

“I don’t want media,” he told his mother while visiting her a day later in Tijuana.

Today, advocates planned pro-immigrant demonstrations inspired by Saul’s mother in communities across the nation. The boy’s mother said Saul would be part of a vigil in Washington, or a rally in Tijuana.

Groups opposed to illegal aliens have long accused Miss Arellano and immigration activists of exploiting Saul in their pursuit of reform. The boy has traveled the country for the past year, appearing at rallies, on television programs and at meetings with lawmakers.

Many Hispanic activists and immigrants also have suggested that the boy should be allowed to live a normal childhood.

“Is it right to use a child … in political problems?” a person asked recently on www. hoyinternet.com, a Spanish-language news site. “Is it right for his own mother to use him this way?”

Miss Arellano said Saul always chose to participate in immigration activities, and doing so helped him deal with a difficult family situation.

“The movement isn’t taking advantage of him. He is the reason we are fighting,” she said in a phone interview from Mexico.

Saul was reunited with his mother Aug. 31 in Mexico City. But, she said: “Our dog, his toys, his whole life is there” in the United States. “He doesn’t know Mexico at all.”

Saul is in many ways similar to other American-born children whose parents are illegal aliens.

About 3.1 million American children have parents who are here illegally, according to an analysis by the Urban Institute and the Pew Hispanic Center.

Such children are often forced into roles far beyond their years, such as translating for their parents, navigating the educational and health care systems they can access as U.S. citizens, and baby-sitting younger siblings while their parents work several jobs. Most carry with them a constant fear of being separated from their parents.

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