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Immigration Activist Arrested And Deported After Leaving Church Refuge

After a year-long standoff between an illegal Mexican immigrant and federal immigration and customs authorities, a woman who had been receiving sanctuary from church in Chicago has been arrested and deported.

Elvira Arellano had announced that she would leave the church where she had been living for a year in order to speak out about the necessity of immigration reform.

She was located by officials in downtown Los Angeles on August 19th and arrested. Arellano was immediately deported to Tijuana.

She had hoped to lead a nationwide campaign for immigration reform, but U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers have prevented that by removing her from the country.

Arellano Arrested

Arellano was arrested on Sunday, August 19th, after spending the day speaking to hundreds of parishioners at four separate churches and urging them to lobby House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other congressional members from California to take up immigration reform immediately when they return from the summer recess.

Arellano was riding as a passenger in a sport utility vehicle with her 8 year old son and others when the vehicle was surrounded by a swarm of unmarked cars with immigration and customs officers inside.

The officers handcuffed the driver of the vehicle and ordered Arellano out. She took a minute to calm her young son, who was crying, and then stepped out of the vehicle.

Arellano was handcuffed and taken into custody and the driver of the SUV was released.

At the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, where Arellano had sought sanctuary for the past year, pastor Rev. Walter Coleman said that he had spoken to her by phone after she was deported. He said that she was free in Tijuana and generally in good spirits.

He stated that Arellano is planning to continue her struggle against the separation of families while she continues living in Mexico. Arellano does not believe she will be able to re-enter the country after being deported.

Emma Lozano, an immigration activist from Chicago, was with Arellano when she was located by immigration officials and taken into custody. Lozano and others had said they would not allow Arellano get deported, but they were unable to prevent it from happening.

Lozano spoke from inside the Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church at “La Placita” and said that there are already several lawyers working on Arellano’s case.

Our Lady Queen of Angels is one of about 12 churches across the United States that have provided refuge for illegal immigrants avoiding arrest and deportation. All of the immigrants who have sought sanctuary in the churches have eventually been deported.

Arellano was ordered to leave the United States back in 1997. She had illegally come into the United States two times. She was arrested at O’Hare International Airport in 2002 during a federal crackdown on illegally employed immigrants. At that time, she worked at the airport cleaning airplanes.

She became an activist for immigration reform after being convicted of using a fake Social Security card.

Federal authorities say they had already begun the deportation process before she was spotted in Los Angeles.

Immigration and customs authorities have stepped up the enforcement of immigration laws and policy since a bipartisan bill that would have cleared a path for millions of illegal immigrants to become legal citizens recently failed to pass in the Senate.

Immigration and customs authorities have recently been arresting approximately 675 illegal immigrants per week in the U.S. This number is likely to grow as the Bush administration puts a new plan in action that will strictly enforce existing immigration laws and penalize employers for allowing illegal immigrants an opportunity to work.

Arellano had announced that she would leave the church, where she had been living in refuge since August 15 of last year. She wanted to hit the road and mobilize her efforts for more lenient immigration reform.

She was planning to travel to Washington for an 8-hour prayer and fast vigil that is scheduled for September 12th , 2007.

Most people, even immigrant activists from around the country who supported Arellano’s efforts, said they knew that it was only a matter of time before she was arrested and deported.

Some immigrants are angry about Arellano’s actions. They say that she does not represent illegal immigrants in the United States and has deliberately provoked law enforcement and anti-immigration groups and therefore made the situation worse for them.

Arellano was able to have a brief visit with her son in Mexico before he returned to Chicago to live with his godmother. He is a citizen of the United States and will not face deportation.

Elvira Arellano is currently free in Tijuana; however, she will likely face jail time in Mexico.