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Immigration activist who sought sanctuary in church arrested in L.A.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Elvira Arellano walked past parishioners Sunday at Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Los Angeles.
(Chris Martinez ~ La Opinion)
LOS ANGELES -- An illegal immigrant who stayed in a Chicago church for a year to avoid separation from her 8-year-old son, a U.S. citizen, was arrested Sunday and was being processed for deportation.

Elvira Arellano, who arrived in Los Angeles on Saturday after leaving her sanctuary to campaign for immigration reform, was arrested around 1:30 p.m. outside Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church where she had been speaking to reporters, said the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist, the Chicago church.

Arellano was "being processed for removal to Mexico based upon a deportation order originally issued by a federal immigration judge in 1997," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a news release.

Immigration activists promised protests and vigils to support her.

"We are sad, but at the same time we are angry," said Javier Rodriguez, a Chicago immigration activist who worked with her. "How dare they arrest this woman?"

Anti-illegal immigrant groups said the arrest was long overdue.

"Just because the woman has gone public and made an issue of the fact that she is defying law doesn't mean the government doesn't have to do its job," said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors limits on immigration.

Arellano, 32, has become a symbol of the struggles of illegal immigrant parents and a source of controversy. She had said Saturday she was not afraid of being arrested by immigration agents.

"From the time I took sanctuary the possibility has existed that they arrest me in the place and time they want," she said in Spanish. "I only have two choices. I either go to my country, Mexico, or stay and keep fighting. I decided to stay and fight."

At an afternoon news conference in Los Angeles, Arellano's son, Saul, hid behind Coleman's wife, Emma Lozano, and wiped away tears. Lozano said she is the boy's legal guardian.

"He's taking it better than we thought he would," said Lozano, the head of an immigration rights group in Chicago.

Arellano came to Washington state illegally in 1997. She was deported to Mexico shortly after, but returned and moved to Illinois in 2000, taking a job cleaning planes at O'Hare International Airport.

She was arrested in 2002 at O'Hare and convicted of working under a false Social Security number. She was to surrender to authorities last August.

She sought refuge at the storefront church on Chicago's West Side Aug. 15, 2006. She had not left the church property until deciding to be driven to Los Angeles, Coleman said.

As news of her arrest spread Sunday, members of the Chicago church began arriving to pray.

"People will be sad about what happened to Elvira," said Catherine Archibald, a member of the congregation and a friend of Elvira's. "But I think it is very important now that we mobilize and push even harder."

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