ICE deports sanctuary activist

On the afternoon of Aug. 19, ICE agents arrested activist Elvira Arellano on a city street in downtown Los Angeles and deported her to Tijuana, Mexico within hours. Arellano became an activist shortly after she was arrested in 2002 during a federal sweep at O’Hare International Airport, where she cleaned airplanes. She gained national fame when she took sanctuary in a Chicago church on Aug. 15, 2006, in an effort to avoid being deported away from her US-born son Saul, now eight years old. Her activism has since spurred churches around the US to initiate what they are calling a “new sanctuary movement” to defend immigrants and end deportations, especially those that separate immigrant parents from their US-born children.

“She has been deported. She is free and in Tijuana,” said Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, which had provided sanctuary to Arellano. “She is in good spirits. She is ready to continue the struggle against the separation of families from the other side of the border.” (Chicago Tribune, Aug. 20) “I have a fighting spirit, and I’m going to continue to fight,” Arellano said on Aug. 24 outside the apartment in Tijuana where she is living with a friend. Arellano told reporters in Mexico that Saul is in Chicago in the care of his godmother and will attend a Sept. 12 rally for immigration reform in Washington. (AP, Aug. 25)

In a news conference on Aug. 15, the one-year anniversary of her sanctuary, Arellano had announced she would leave the Adalberto church and travel to Washington for an 8-hour prayer and fast vigil on Sept. 12. She kept secret her plans to go first to other cities to build momentum for the vigil.

Arellano left Chicago on Aug. 16 and arrived in Los Angeles on Aug. 18 for the first stop in that campaign, which coincided with a local immigration march. On Aug. 19 she urged audiences of several hundred parishioners inside four separate churches to lobby House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other congressional members from California to take up immigration reform immediately after returning from summer recess. (Los Angeles Times, Aug. 16; CT, Aug. 20) “It’s important that we are unified so that we can bring out the message that we’re all struggling together,” Arellano said at the Angelica Lutheran Church in Los Angeles’ Pico-Union neighborhood. “The hate you are seeing build around the country has no boundaries.”

ICE officers arrested Arellano as she and her supporters were leaving Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in downtown Los Angeles. The agents stopped the vehicle Arellano, Saul and their supporters were traveling in, handcuffed the driver and ordered Arellano to get out, said Chicago activist Emma Lozano, who was with Arellano. Before surrendering, Arellano asked for time alone to console her crying son, telling him: “Calm down. Don’t have any fear. They can’t hurt me,” Lozano said. The entire incident lasted about two minutes, she said. The driver was released. (CT, Aug. 20)

On Aug. 25, immigrant rights activists marched through downtown Los Angeles in support of Arellano. “It’s an effort by all immigrant rights groups to come together and re-energize the whole movement, in solidarity with Elvira,” said college student Marylou Cabral. Some marchers carried large photos of Arellano and her Saul, while others raised placards reading “We are all Elvira!” Organizers said over 2,000 demonstrated, while police put the crowd at closer to 600. (AP, Aug. 25) Vigils and marches in solidarity with Arellano were also held in Chicago and Houston. (Houston Indymedia, Aug. 21; Chicago Tribune, Aug. 21)

From Immigration News Briefs, Aug. 26

See our last post on the immigration crackdown.