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Activist Deportee Elvira Arellano Released In San Diego

Elvira Arellano looks over her parole papers with a fellow activist in San Diego, March 20, 2014.
Brooke Binkowski
Elvira Arellano looks over her parole papers with a fellow activist in San Diego, March 20, 2014.
Activist Deportee Elvira Arellano Released In San Diego

Elvira Arellano never thought she would make it back into the United States. Now she has returned with the hope of staying here for good.

The 39-year-old made international headlines and became a heroine to immigration activists seven years ago, when she sought sanctuary from deportation in a Chicago church. She lived inside the Adalberto United Methodist Church for a year. She was named a Person of the Year by Time Magazine in 2006. But she was finally deported in 2007 along with her 8-year-old son.


After she returned to Mexico, Arellano remained an active advocate of immigration reform, participating in demonstrations when she could.

This week, she joined a mass protest along the U.S.-Mexico border in which about 150 people tried to cross into the United States without documentation, many applying for humanitarian visas or planning to seek asylum. Arellano tried to cross with her infant son Emiliano on her back, and was taken into custody by U.S. Border Patrol at the Otay Mesa border crossing.

“I was really nervous going in, really afraid, of course,” Arellano said in Spanish, standing outside the federal courthouse building in San Diego while friends and family took turns holding her baby. “I was scared they would send me to federal prison because I have a previous deportation. But thanks to the community, the organizations, the people who worked so hard, and thanks to God, I'm here and I'm free.”

She and her baby were released into San Diego on parole Thursday afternoon and she was greeted by her other son, 15 year old Saul Arellano, who had been waiting for her in the United States.

KPBS Evening Edition host Peggy Pico speaks with Lilia Velasquez, a San Diego attorney specializing in immigration, about migrants presenting themselves to agents at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking asylum, March 11, 2014.

“We were deported when I was 8 years old, and then I lived my other seven years in Mexico and now we're back,” said Saul, smiling.

Arellano's friend and longtime adviser Emma Lozano was also waiting outside the courthouse.

“I really believed she would be because I received those phone calls, that were very positive, and I felt a connection," said Arellano. "God was giving me a sign... but when I talked to different people they were saying no, there's no way. Even my attorney was saying there's no way that's going to happen, so I was starting to get a little doubtful.”

Lozano is an activist and a pastor at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, where Elvira Arellano once lived. She said she hopes Arelleno's release into the United States marks a change in immigration policy.

“We just kept praying, and then we kept pressuring Obama to do what he has to do, because it's not just about Elvira and Saulito,” said Lozano. “It's a human crisis.... You can't just unjustly deport 2 million people when there's a broken law.”

The Arellanos are now making long-term plans.

“She's gonna be here until her case is resolved, and we're going to wait here, and then we're going to go back home,” said Saul.

Home, to him, is Chicago – a place he has only been able to visit occasionally for the past seven years.

“I've come to vacations in Chicago, I come every vacation. But I think now I'm gonna stay for a while.”