Taking sanctuary, Taking a stand

The church is just a small storefront on Division Street in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. Outside its doors, a storm raged from August through the fall last year with civil rights marches, media from around the world and Minutemen in attendance.

The woman at the center of the storm is a slight, shy 31-year-old single mother, former airport worker and undocumented immigrant. On Aug. 15, 2006, instead of reporting to immigration authorities for her deportation order, Arellano took her 7-year-old son Saul and entered Adalberto United Methodist church, launching the first church sanctuary case in the United States since the 1980s sanctuary movement for Central American refugees.

Her standoff with the Department of Homeland Security, whose agents have said they won’t hesitate to enter the church to arrest her at a time of their own choosing, has provided the immigrant rights movement with an important act of civil disobedience during a time when raids continue to target 600,000 “fugitives” and the possibility of positive national reform remains distant.

Her case also raised a public debate over morality versus an inhumane immigration law that even referenced the abolitionists’ defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act. Meanwhile, organizers at Centro Sin Fronteras and La Familia Latina Unida, which Arellano helped found, used the momentum to push ahead with a call for a moratorium on raids and deportations until “the broken law is fixed.”

With a strong dose of religious faith and a simple message about a mother’s love, Arellano has firmly asserted the reality of undocumented families and their 4 million U.S.-born children into the immigration debate.

“I’ve learned so much, and I feel strong and peaceful,” Arellano said. “I have faith that it will be possible for me to stay in this country and for all families to stay together.”

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