She walks around the room watching Saul as he gets ready for another day at school. As Saul brushes his teeth, she lowers her potty-trained, Chihuahua called Daisy, into the toilet and then she feeds him water. She helps her son put on his sweater, hat, and jacket, zipping it up so he doesn’t freeze. She waits patiently for Jacobita Alonso, who drives him to school everyday, to warm up the car.
The door opens and closes constantly with people walking in and out to say good morning. With a slight tug on his hood and a kiss on the nose, Arellano performs the sign of the cross on Saul. She ends by lightly kissing him as she says goodbye. She watches as her son walks down the church stairs with Alonso. As soon as Saul is out of sight, Arellano slowly closes the door to the world she hasn’t stepped foot in since Aug. 15th, 2006.
She spends her time fighting for immigration reform and for her and Saul to have a normal life in the United States without fear of deportation. Arellano has sought sanctuary in the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Humboldt Park.
Arellano came to the United States with the same hope of many Mexicans seeking good economy and a better life. Her life in Mexico required her to depend on her parents for everything except clothes. She felt the need to help support her parents, who have been diagnosed with illnesses. Her father has multiple sclerosis and her mother has diabetes.
After two attempts, she made it successfully into America in search of a better income to live her own life and help out her family. Her fight made Arellano a symbol to other immigrants and people in the community.
“We do not come to the U.S. to harm anybody. We are people that work, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy of this country,” Arellano said.
Immigration officials say she has broken the law.
“Elvira Arellano was previously deported from the United States and illegally came back in. She has been ordered deported by the United States and by not showing up as she was required to do so, she became an immigration fugitive,” said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Spokeswoman, Gail Montenegro.
In refusal to leave, her last option was the support of the church. Arellano and Saul, with only the clothes on their backs, left their life behind. They made their new home on a second-floor apartment above the storefront church. It is now filled with items donated from by supporters – a small bed she shares with her son, a computer so Elvira can communicate with the outside world and video games for Saul.
Saul is the main reason she fights for what she believes in.
“I feel proud because I have been both mother and father for my son, and I am trying to give him a better life and a better education,” Arellano said.
The phone rings periodically throughout the day, as Arellano sets up interviews and talks to people interested in her story. Her ability to stand up against the law has made Arellano a symbol in the eyes of undocumented immigrants.
“I think what Elvira did, was what any mother would have done with any sense of common sense and love for her child. That is why I admire her so much,” said Cook County Commissioner Roberto Maldonado, who has proposed making the county a sanctuary for illegal immigrants.
“We need to provide some sense of relief and hope to the undocumented that reside in our local government jurisdictions where we are,” Maldonado said.
Maldonado and other immigrant rights advocates want immigration reform.
Dale Asis, executive director of CAAAELII, the Coalition of African, Arab, Asian, European and Latino Immigrants of Illinois, said the immigration laws should be overhauled.
“Forty years ago it was a crime for blacks and whites to commingle and even eat at the same table. It was a crime, but was it fair? It was a crime 80 years ago for women to vote, was that fair? It was a crime for African-Americans to leave their owners home because they were treated as property, is that fair?”
Asis asked. “Laws are made by men and laws should change to reflect the values and norms of the times. America should stand up for a sense of fairness.”
Day by day, Arellano patiently waits behind the protective walls of the church for something to be done. She has lived there more than eight months. Each day she waits and fights in hope that maybe one day she will be able to take her son to school herself.
So the waiting continues, because she will not give up.
“I have faith that God is great and God knows that I’m doing this to protect my son,” Arellano said.
Justice & Crime Public Religion & Spirituality Social Issues