Elvira Arellano

Elvira Arellano (born 1975) is a Mexican citizen from San Miguel Curahuango, Michoacán, notable for living illegally in the United States. Facing deportation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Arellano attempted to declare sanctuary in the Adalberto United Methodist Church on Division Street in Chicago (although the law does not recognize the concept of "sanctuary") in August 2006. On August 19, 2007, having traveled to California to make appearances, Arellano was arrested by U.S. authorities outside of Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in downtown Los Angeles and deported to Mexico. She is the president of La Familia Latina Unida (United Latino Family), a group that lobbies for families that could be split by deportation.


Arellano entered the United States illegally in 1997 and was apprehended and deported back to Mexico by the United States government. She returned within days and lived illegally for three years in Oregon. In 1999, she gave birth to a son, Saul Arellano, whose father remains unnamed by Elvira. Due to the 14th Amendment, which grants birthright citizenship, Saul is a United States citizen. In 2000, Arellano moved to Chicago and worked as a cleaning woman at O'Hare International Airport. In 2002, following a post-September 11 security sweep, she was arrested and convicted of Social Security Fraud. Arellano was ordered to appear before immigration authorities on August 15, 2006. Instead of complying with the court order and to avoid arrest and deportation, on that date she took refuge in the Adalberto United Methodist church in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago, which maintained it was a sanctuary for illegal immigrants. Before that, she sought safe haven for a year in Amor De Dios United Methodist Church with Pastor José S. Landaverde, who begun the new immigrant sanctuary movement in Illinois.

On November 14, 2006, in Mexico City, Saul Arellano appeared before the Congress of Mexico. The Mexican lawmakers passed a resolution to urge the United States government to suspend the deportation of Arellano and other parents of children who are United States citizens.

She was arrested on August 19, 2007 in Los Angeles. Within hours of her arrest Arellano was repatriated to Mexico by U.S. federal agents in compliance with an existing deportation order. She was accompanied to the Mexican border by an official of the Mexican consulate in San Diego, California, as well as by agents of the U.S. government.


Arellano says that she should not have to choose between leaving her US citizen child in the U.S. or taking him to Mexico. Critics of Arellano counter that she is exploiting her son in order to remain in the United States. Latino advocates have highlighted this case as one of civil rights. Arellano's claim of a "right of sanctuary" and a claim to stay in the United States has been taken up by Latino advocate groups such as National Alliance for Immigrants' Rights, NCLR, LULAC, among others. In support, La Placita, a historic Los Angeles church, declared itself a sanctuary for any undocumented immigrant facing deportation, something it did during the 1980s for the first refugees from war-ridden Guatemala and El Salvador who escaped to California.

In September 2006, the Post Chronicle published "An Open Letter to the Senators from Illinois". In the article, Venkat Mullur, an Illinois resident, summed up the law & order angle to this story, something that the Chicago and the national media had shunned or ignored in favor of more politically correct and human interest reporting. Eventually, around the time of Ms. Arellano's final trip to Los Angeles in August 2007, the mainstream media appeared to come around to acknowledging that her defiant and illegal stance had indeed hurt the cause of undocumented immigrants in the US. Rather than symbolizing a struggle for rightful resistance, her posturing, it was reported, made Americans more hardened in their attitudes towards illegal immigration.

The U.S. government's position is that Arellano is free to take Saul with her to Mexico in order to keep her family together. Prior to Arrellano's deportation, the U.S. government also noted that there is no claim to sanctuary in a church under U.S. law.

Upon her return to Mexico Arellano stated that, "the United States is the one who broke the law first. By letting people cross over [the border] without documents. By letting people pay taxes. . . ." These comments led to criticism because this statement is very similar to those made by anti-immigration groups in the United States.

On May 3, 2007, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL), introduced H.R. 2182, which would grant legal immigrant status, with the possibility of applying for permanent residence status, to Arellano as well as 33 other people. The bill was referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary and (as of August 2007) has yet to move out of the committee.

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