Living in God's House

Elvira Arellano, 32, wants to be able to pick her son up from school and take him out for ice cream on hot days. But she can't leave her church, where she has taken sanctuary since Aug. 15, 2006, after immigration officials told her she would be deported. She fears she will be separated from her son, Saul, who is 8 years old and a United States citizen.

They live at Adalberto United Methodist Church, a storefront congregation on Chicago's West Side, where about half of the people attending are undocumented immigrants. The church is believed to be the first to offer refuge to a person facing deportation as part of the New Sanctuary Movement. "It is a church that has always helped immigrants," Arellano said.

Arellano crossed the border 10 years ago from Michoacán, Mexico, carrying her family's hopes that she would financially support them by working in the U.S. In the previous two years, her father lost the land he had farmed, and poverty bore down on the family. Arellano believes the North American Free Trade Agreement contributed to her family's misery. "My country was greatly affected by the free trade agreement and the devaluing of the Mexican peso."

She was arrested in December 2002 during a federal raid while working as a cleaning woman at O'Hare Airport. Adalberto's pastor, Walter Coleman, and church members got some of the several dozen people arrested out on bond.

Afterward, Arellano joined the church and began La Familia Latina Unida, a ministry currently serving about 300 families who have members facing deportation. Arellano herself has told the Immigration and Customs Enforcement where she is, and letters explaining her protest cover the church's front windows.

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Sojourners Magazine September/October 2007
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