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Immigrant Activist Brings Reform Fight Back To Chicago

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A familiar face in the debate over immigration rights was back in Chicago on Monday, nearly seven years after she was deported to Mexico, following her yearlong stay in a local church to avoid deportation.

Elvira Arellano crossed into California from Mexico last week. She said she gave herself up to immigration officials, seeking a humanitarian visa.

Through an interpreter, she said she and her five-month-old son were released after being held for two days.

“She said I am so happy to be here to be part of the dream my son has, but I cannot forget those faces of those children that were waiting for her when she got out of detention hoping also that their mother would be able to come out,” she said.

Once again, many immigrants fighting to stay in the U.S. were ready to rally around Arellano, nearly eight years after she made international headlines by seeking asylum in a Humboldt Park church to avoid deportation.

Starting in 2006, she and her son, Saul, spent a year living at Adalberto United Methodist Church, where she sought asylum to avoid being sent back to Mexico. She and her supporters argued, because Saul was born here and is a U.S. citizen, she should be allowed to stay with him.

In 2007, Arellano left the church to go to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress for immigration reform. She was deported after leaving the church.

On Sunday, she and her sons returned to the church where she spent a year avoiding deportation.

“She said I am so happy to be here to be part of the dream my son has, but I cannot forget those faces of those children that were waiting for her when she got out of detention hoping also that their mother would be able to come out,” Arellano said through an interpreter.

Last week, she returned to the U.S. with a group of protesters, and her two sons.

“They crossed together to try to challenge the law, so that they could return, and right now they’re asking for humanitarian visas,” pastor Emma Lozano said.

Arellano said, while in Mexico, she never stopped fighting for what immigration rights activists refer to as “Dreamers” – children brought to the U.S. in violation of immigration laws. The name is in reference to the immigration reform proposal known as the DREAM Act, which some members of Congress have sought to pass for more than a decade.

Arellano has been released on supervision, and must report back to immigration officials in six months.

Asked what she’d do if she’s deported again at that point, Arellano said through a translator, “I’m not thinking about that right now. I’m just going to see what’s going to happen in September.”

Her attorney, Chris Bergin, said he believes she’ll be granted asylum, and allowed to stay in the U.S.

“Based on her human rights activities in Mexico, she has been targeted through threats,” she said.

Her older son, Saul, is now 14. He said his mother is his hero.

“She’s my inspiration of day-by-day, because I haven’t seen no one else like her, and I love her,” he said.

Saul followed his mother to Mexico after she was deported, and came back with her. Her younger son, born 5 months ago in Mexico, also came with them to the U.S. last week.

Arellano and Lozano were urging others to take part in an immigration rights rally on Thursday in Chicago.