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The Unlikely Activist

By Kevin Robinson in News on Aug 16, 2007 2:30PM

One year after she took refuge inside a Humboldt Park storefront United Methodist church, immigration fugitive, mother, and unlikely activist for immigration reform Elvira Arellano announced that she would risk deportation by leaving the church to head to Washington, DC to lobby Congress for immigration reform. "If this government would separate me from my son, let them do it in front of the men and women who have the responsibility to fix this broken law and uphold the principles of human dignity," she told the Chicago Tribune.

2007_8_elvira.jpgArellano's story isn't unique, at least up to the point where she sought refuge in her church: She arrived in the US illegally 10 years ago, was soon caught and deported, and returned shortly thereafter, using a fake Social Security card to find work. After coming to Chicago and taking a job cleaning airplanes at O'Hare, she was arrested in a post 9/11 crackdown. Although she pleaded guilty to using falsified documents, a series of legal reprieves kept her here, with her now 8-year-old son (a US citizen) until last August, when she was ordered to report to the Department of Homeland Security to be deported to Mexico.

Although named one of the People Who Mattered in 2006 by Time Magazine, her path to challenging the justice of immigration laws in the US has not been easy. Even her supporters have said that she isn't the best face of this movement. Arellano herself acknowledges that, but points out that she did indeed pay taxes when she was working. She argues that Congress has an obligation to do something about laws that don't serve the people - including her son Saul.

As Arellano prepares to head to DC to lobby, to protest, to pray, her journey leaves those of us that see this issue in many shades of grey with more questions than answers: do people who are not American citizens have a fundamental human right to petition a democratic and transparent government "by, of and for the people" for redress of grievances? If a set of laws adversely impacts an American citizen who cannot clearly articulate that injury - such as an 8 year old boy - does a parent who is not a citizen have a right to speak up for that child's well-being? In a global economy where capital flows freely and easily across borders, do people have the right to move to where they can live a better life? As Arellano prepares to travel to DC, many people will be watching to see what action, if any, Immigration and Customs Enforcement will take.

Image via National Fast for Immigrant Justice