CHICAGO ( – A plaque on the wall above us reads, “The Lord is with you wherever you go.” But for now, if His Presence surrounds her within the confines of the grounds of Adalberto United Methodist Church, it will suffice for Elvira Arrelano. She sought sanctuary in the humble Westside church two weeks ago from a deportation order for Aug. 15 from Homeland Security.

Her refusal is rooted in her three years of work with Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a local grassroots organization that fights against the injustice of immigration laws that separate families comprised of undocumented immigrants and U.S. citizens. For this Mexican mother, it is also a personal battle to remain in this country with her 7-year-old son Saul who is a U.S. citizen.

Saulito is not with her tonight; he has traveled along with immigrant activist and leader Emma Lozano to film their appearance on the Christina talk show, for broadcast several days later on Aug. 28. Christina is the Latina appeal equivalent of the Oprah show, but can boast a greater reach due to syndication throughout Latin America. The broadcast will only magnify the international attention already drawn to her case for, amongst her averaging of 50 daily interviews, she has fielded telephone calls from various foreign media, including Polish TV.


On the local front, support continues to pour in like a waterfall, in spite of uniformed detractors of her act of civil disobedience against what activists have termed a “broken” law that seeks to separate 3.1 million other U.S. citizen children from their parents.

Led by Clergy Speaks Interdenominational (CSI) Chairman Bishop Larry Trotter and President Albert Tyson III, a delegation of 30 Black ministers held a press conference at the church Aug. 22 to unconditionally support her act of civil disobedience in the fight against separating spouses or parents and children. CSI is the largest interdenominational organization of clergy in the city.

“In these cases, we must follow God’s law,” insisted Pastor Tyson. “We are in solidarity spiritually with this church; and that all of our churches, as well as this one, are sanctuaries to keep families together.”

Even though two congressional bills in her behalf are pending in Congress, Homeland Security refused to grant another stay of deportation, reversing the precedent they had set the previous year. Since Congress resumes session in September, a tense course of waiting for a political intervention lies ahead.

Remarkably, Elvira’s petite frame of 31 years does not reveal an inch of worry. At a small dinner table quietly eating her meal, she is surrounded by a handful of supporters who interrupt the heaviness in the air with occasional laughter. Later, she reads in Spanish an endearing message of gratitude scribbled on both sides of a notecard from Javier, a child she does not know. The involvement of children of all ages in this immigration war is beautifully reflected in a banner of support across the front entrance of the church displaying the colorful handprints of nearly 50 children, most of whom are clearly still learning to write their names and so dipped their palms in paint to impress upon the white cloth.

In addition to the crowd of supporters milling around in the night, I am informed that a Puerto Rican woman has been standing, waving her homeland’s flag in solidarity with Elvira’s case. A touching act of Latino unity, since Puerto Ricans are not immigrants; they are U.S. citizens.

The swelling increase in support for immigration reform is tempered by intensifying opposition. One example is the recent announcement by the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps of the donation by a Washington-based fiber optic mesh company of up to $7 million in fencing materials to the Minuteman Border Fence Project. The company, FOMGuard USA, designed a system that can be used either over existing security structures or as a standalone, comprised of utilizing cameras, face recognition software, laser and vibration sensors.

In a statement, the group’s president, Chris Simcox maintained the project’s need “in a time when mothers are forced to drink baby formula before being allowed to board an airplane; terrorists, drug smugglers, human traffickers, rapists and thieves can walk across our unsecured borders unabated.”

Although thousands of the undocumented die every day in crossings from Mexico, either by natural causes or killed by law enforcement or militia, the threat of physical harm is not limited to the borders. It is also a danger on the streets of Chicago recognized even by the children. Ms. Lozano’s granddaughter travels back and forth, reminding us periodically of the “Bad Man” that was at the church earlier in the day. She is referring to a Minuteman that entered the church taking pictures the day before and had returned.

Each time she is comforted that the “Bad Man” will not harm her, there is the unspoken understanding that this reassurance is also simultaneously extended to Elvira.

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