CHICAGO – An illegal immigrant who took refuge in a church one year ago to escape deportation said Wednesday that she plans to leave her sanctuary next month to lobby Congress for immigration reform, even if that means risking arrest.
"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," Elvira Arellano, 32, said, reading in English from a prepared statement.
Arellano took refuge inside Aldalberto United Methodist Church on Aug. 15, 2006, and has lived there on the second floor with her 8-year-old son Saul, who is a U.S. citizen. She hasn't left the building for fear of being sent back to Mexico and separated from her son.
But on Wednesday, the anniversary of her move into the church, she announced she planned to leave on Sept. 12 to travel to Washington.
Her public defiance has drawn attention to the situation of illegal immigrants whose children are American citizens, but she's also drawn criticism from many who say she exploits her son by having him speak at news conferences.
Arellano came illegally to the U.S. in 1997. She was deported shortly thereafter, but returned and worked different jobs, including childcare. She moved to Illinois in 2000 because she had friends in the Chicago area and took a job cleaning planes at O'Hare International Airport.
She was arrested in 2002 at O'Hare and later convicted of working under a false Social Security number. She was to surrender to authorities last August, but decided instead to take refuge at her church.