CHICAGO — Two and half months have passed since Elvira Arellano took sanctuary here at a northwest side church, defying U.S. government efforts to deport her to Mexico. Arellano is optimistic about her prospects, and says her struggle to resist deportation to remain with her 7-year-old son Saul, who is a U.S. citizen, is worth the fight.
“If I don’t fight, nothing will happen,” Arellano told the World in Spanish during an Oct. 30 interview at Adalberto United Methodist Church. “I have a lot to gain if I stand up against deportation.”
As president of the locally based group La Familia Latina Unida, Arellano has become a national symbol of undocumented parents who want to stay in the U.S. with their citizen children. She said her group is dedicated to helping families who are being separated by flawed immigration laws to stay together.
“Our aim is a collective demand to end the unjust deportations of parents,” Arellano said. “It’s ironic that immigration laws are being proposed and debated, yet daily deportations, raids and unjust immigration policies continue to be enforced by the Department of Homeland Security.”
President Bush recently signed legislation to create a 700-mile border fence that would stretch along a third of the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border, saying that his administration and the Republican-controlled Congress are getting tough on border security and taking aggressive steps to combat “illegal immigration.”
“It’s a political game employed by the Republicans to gain the conservative vote in the November elections,” said Arellano. “I tell people to register and go out and vote, especially the youth who could vote on behalf of their immigrant parents. If the elections go well, and the Democrats win back Congress, there is a better chance for my case and for the immigrant rights movement as a whole.”
“We are just parents who came here to work,” she said. “None of us came here to be called terrorists or criminals. We came here in search of our dreams.”
Arellano said unity with non-Latino communities is important. “As undocumented workers we suffer the same racism and discrimination as the African American community,” she said. “Our communities need to support one another.”
Last September, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit filed on behalf of Saul that argued his civil rights would be violated if his mother were deported.
In mid-October Arellano filed a national class action lawsuit on behalf of millions of U.S. citizen children against the U.S. government, President Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez and Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff. The lawsuit argues that U.S. deportation policies that tear apart families are essentially a form of child abuse.
La Familia Latina Unida organized a busload of citizen children, their parents and supporters to travel to Washington on Nov. 2 to support the lawsuit.
Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, inspired by Arellano’s courage, drafted a bill calling for the county, which includes Chicago, to be designated a sanctuary for immigrants. The measure would prohibit county employees from asking people about their immigration status, thereby ensuring that undocumented immigrants would have access to all county services.
Elvira Arellano’s son Saul told the World, “I want the president to stop the raids and to help children stay with their moms and dads.” He said his mother is special because “she wants to stay here with me.”
“Saulito” said he wants to be a fireman when he grows up because he likes helping people. He loves the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bears. His favorite subjects in school are math and working with computers. Superman, Spiderman and Batman are his favorite comic super-heroes. If he had to leave, he said, he would miss his school and friends.
Elvira Arellano said Saulito’s father “does not play a role in our family.”
“I am his mother and his father right now,” she said.
Arellano said she does not feel like a prisoner holed up in the church. She has everything she needs, including her computer and a phone. “At least I don’t have to worry about paying for gas right now,” she said, smiling.
She wished she could have attended a friend’s recent wedding, or another friend’s Quinceanera birthday party. But “ultimately,” she said, “my time and my complete energy is dedicated to my organization and my son.”
“In everything I do, I am always trying to fight for Saulito’s future,” she said. “I want a life full of security, to protect his rights and to be a good role model in his life, an example, to struggle and fight for justice, to teach him what is right and fair.”