From undocumented immigrant to international activist

Photo by Maria Ines Zamudio Elvira Arellano continues to organize and lobby for immigration reform.

Photo by Maria Ines Zamudio

Elvira Arellano continues to organize and lobby for immigration reform.

She crossed the border illegally, like thousands of Mexicans do every year, to find work. A decade later, she returned to her home country as the face of immigration reform.

Elvira Arellano received a deportation order in 2002 following a sweep at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, where she cleaned airplanes in 2002. But instead of leaving, she sought refuge inside a Chicago church in 2006,sparking a nationwide sanctuary movement. Arellano and her U.S.-born son, Saul, became iconic symbols for immigration reform. And in 2006, Time Magazine named her Person of the Year.

“I knew there was nothing I could legally do for my case, but politically we had a lot to gain,” Arellano told The Chicago Reporter during a recent interview in Mexico City, where she was taking part in a training for activists.

“I did as much as I could. I wanted other families to stand up and fight with us.”

Arellano was a polarizing figure. Pro-immigration activists used her case to illustrate the country’s broken system while anti-immigration activists wanted immigration officials to deport her and, in some cases, labeled her son an “anchor baby” while calling for the abolition of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

She was eventually deported in 2007. She moved back to her hometown of San Miguel Curahuango Maravatio in the state of Michoacán. She hasn’t given up her activism work. Since returning to Mexico, she has continued to organize in support of immigration reform and to protect the rights of Central American immigrants traveling through Mexico. continue reading