CLEVELAND — At a rally for immigrant rights here Sept. 10, a standing-room-only crowd applauded as the 8-year-old son of Elvira Arellano, recently deported to Mexico, appealed for an end to the inhumane assaults on families by federal authorities.

His head barely clearing the podium at the Nueva Vida church, Saul “Saulito” Arellano asked the crowd to “tell President Bush to stop the raids and deportations so my mom and other families can stay here.”

His mother, arrested last month outside a Catholic church in Los Angeles and later deported, made national headlines after taking refuge for a year in a church in Chicago. Previously she had worked as a custodian at O’Hare International Airport.

Emma Lozano, Saulito’s guardian and executive director of Centro Sin Fronteras (Center Without Borders), charged that the boy’s mother had been forced to migrate to the U.S. illegally because of U.S. trade policies.

Referring to the thousands of Mexican farmers driven off their land by hard times, she said, “No one wants to talk about why they leave. The Arellano family were corn farmers and because of the free trade agreement, the U.S. flooded Mexico with cheap corn.”

Lozano called for CNN to “fire Lou Dobbs,” whose nightly broadcasts whip up a “hate campaign against immigrants.”

“If they come for Mexicanos now, they will come for you next,” she warned.

Stanley Miller, director of the Cleveland NAACP, said the raids reminded him of the actions of slave catchers in the 19th century.

“This issue,” he said, “transcends ethnic boundaries and exposes ugly racial insensitivity” that is resurfacing in the U.S.

Miller cited the recent burning of the garage of a Black family in a predominantly white Cleveland neighborhood where the arsonists painted swastikas and racist epithets on the walls. He promised to make the fight against the immigration raids a top priority for the NAACP in Ohio.

Veronica Dahlberg, director of the Hispanic rights group HOLA, said immigration raids in Ohio have gotten worse since 46 nursery workers were arrested in Painesville in May.

She described how 180 poultry workers were arrested in August when 300 armed agents with helicopters descended on the Koch Chicken Processing plant in Butler County near Cincinnati.

Most are still in prison, said Jorge Neri, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers, which is trying to form a union at the plant. “I was in the homes of some of the workers the day before the raid,” he noted.

Pastor Joshua Colon said, “Families are being destroyed and the immigration authorities say they are going after the employer, but the night of the raid the employer resumed production.”

“These are people who worked hard all day trying to feed and clothe their families, and they are called criminals. I will be proud to stand with them anytime,” he said. “This is wrong.”

The Rev. Walter Coleman of the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, who gave Elvira Arellano refuge, called the raids “the largest ethnic cleansing operation in U.S. history.”

The government, he said, will soon send out 9 million “no-match letters” ordering companies to discharge employees with discrepancies in Social Security numbers.

At the same time, he said, there is legislation in Congress to alleviate the situation including a bill to give “safe harbor visas” to parents of minor children like Saulito who are U.S. citizens so as not to break up families.