By Pablo Jaime Sáinz
Elvira Arellano has put a face on the thousands of families that have been separated due to a deportation.
She’s the woman who a year ago sought sanctuary in a Chicago church after immigration officials ordered her deportation.
She’s the hard-worker who entered the U.S. without documents in 1997 and was working at the Chicago airport when she was arrested during an immigration raid.
She’s the mother who, in order to stay with her 8-year-old, U.S.-born son, Saul, became an immigrant-rights activist who lobbied for comprehensive immigration reform.
Now, after her arrest in Los Angeles and her quick deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on Sunday, Aug. 19, Arellano is staying in Tijuana, where she said she will continue her struggle in favor of immigrants.
“If my deportation has served so that the people could stand up for their rights, and so that community and religious leaders would unite to continue fighting for legalization, then for me it was worth it,” she said this week at the modest Otay Mesa apartment where she’s staying.
Her son will remain in Chicago under the care of the reverend’s family that offered Arellano sanctuary.
Immigration activists in San Diego have showed their support for Arellano. Enrique Morones, founder of Border Angels, an immigrant-rights organization, visited Arellano in Tijuana. He even conducted his daily Spanish-language radio show from Tijuana in order to have Arellano as a guest on Tuesday.
For Morones, Arellano represents the plead of many people.
“She’s just one of thousands of mothers in the U.S. who are being separated from their children,” he said.
Morones added that immigrant women like her didn’t come to the U.S. to have children in order to fix their legal status. He said the women are here to work and get ahead.
“They came here to work, and in the natural process of life, they have children here,” he said.
Morones said that Border Angels gave Arellano a cash donation of a few hundred dollars this week to help her with her immediate expenses.
Religious leaders in San Diego said this week they are concerned for the anti-immigrant tactics the government and groups like the Minutemen are using.
“We are deeply saddened by ICE’s action and we are praying for Elvira and the hundreds of thousands of families that are in jeopardy of being ripped apart,” said Kim Bobo, Executive Director, Interfaith Worker Justice. “We call on ICE to stop raids and deportation until the Congress enacts fair and comprehensive immigration reform.”
They again, as part of the New Sanctuary Movement, pledged to open congregation doors and hearts to immigrants and their families who face deportation.
In Tijuana, Arellano has the moral support of human rights leaders and teachers, said Victor Clark-Alfaro, president of the Centro Binacional de Derechos Humanos, a human-rights organization in the city.
“We will continue to help her with her cause on this side of the border,” Clark-Alfaro said.
Arellano traveled to Mexico City this week to speak in front of the Mexican Congress and ask policy makers to take a stronger stand on immigration issues with the United States.
She said that she’ll take some time off from the spotlight to visit her parents in the southern state of Michoacan. She hasn’t seen them since 1997, when she crossed the border without documents in order to earn money to help them pay for their medical expenses.
Morones said he and other activists in San Diego will hold a protest in front of Horton Plaza in downtown San Diego on Saturday, Aug. 25, at 3 p.m. That’s when the statue of former San Diego mayor and California governor Pete Wilson will be unveiled.
Wilson is credited by many leaders in the Latino community as the godfather of the anti-immigrant movement that includes groups like the Minutemen and other border vigilantes.
Wilson pushed for the infamous 1994 Prop. 187, which would’ve denied basic rights to undocumented immigrants. It was ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
Morones is asking the community to boycott Horton Plaza so that the owners would remove the Wilson statue.
Morones said the rally will also ask for the immediate return of Arellano to the U.S.