Since mid-August, all roads have led to the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago. More than 6,000 people have visited the place of worship to support Elvira Arellano, a 31-year-old mother of a 7-year-old US born child.
Daily vigils and rallies have been held at the church, located in the heart of the Windy City's Puerto Rican neighborhood. From the temple where she was granted sanctuary, Arellano, a Mexican immigrant, is defying an order of deportation.
"I am a single mom. My son, he is a citizen. I am not a terrorist. I am not a criminal. I am a mom. He is my son," said Arellano in a statement to the media.
Arellano's story is a typical example of the ordeals and struggles experienced by thousands of Hispanic immigrants who fight to survive in the land of opportunities.
She came to the United States without papers from the rural town of Maravatío, in the state of Michoacán. After failing her first attempt, she crossed the border in the hot summer of 1997.
She made a journey of 1,400 miles from Mexicali to Wapato, WA, near Canada. After working there as a nanny for three years, she moved to Chicago. In December 2002, she became one of the extended victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While she was working as a cleaning lady at O'Hare International Airport, she was caught in an immigration raid, a part of Operation Tarmac.
Under Operation Tarmac, Immigration and Customs Service (ICE) conducted investigations at 196 airports and audited over 5,800 businesses. It identified more than 5,800 unauthorized airport workers and arrested more than 1,000 unauthorized alien workers, including 47 immigrants detained at Charlotte-Douglas Airport on Mar. 8, 2002.
Now Arellano is one of the 597,000 immigrant fugitives classified by ICE. "These fugitives, or absconders, are foreign nationals who have been ordered removed by a federal immigration judge but failed to comply with those orders and depart from the United States," the federal agency states in its press releases.
Between Oct. 2005 and July 2006, the National Fugitive Operations Program made over 20,000 arrests. Many of those "fugitives" include people whose requests for asylum were rejected or who had problems with their Temporary Protected Status petitions.
Today, ICE has 45 teams to hunt "fugitive aliens," but the federal agency expects to expand that number to 52 by the end of the year.
Arellano's son, Saul, is one of the 3.1 million children born in the US whose parents are undocumented immigrants. Based on her situation, Arellano started La Familia Unida, a grass roots organization that helps families on the verge of being separated by the current immigration legislation.
Certainly, Arellano has been luckier than Gloria Esmeralda Zoler Romero. This 31-year-old woman from Honduras was seven months pregnant when the ICE agents knocked on the door of her apartment at Lake Mist, a complex located near Old Pineville Road and Archdale Drive, at 5am in mid-August.
Zoler Romero, a fugitive according to ICE standards, was arrested and interviewed at the Tyvola Centre Offices. Hours later, she was released with an order to come back in October. Last week, she entered the hospital, where she lost her baby. "She is unconscious in a critical condition, and I blame this absurd immigration system," a close relative said.