LOS ANGELES A Mexican whose fight to stay in the United States became a cause celebre for pro-immigration activists was deported without her young son, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said on Monday.
Elvira Arellano, 32, an illegal immigrant who had defied deportation orders and claimed sanctuary in a Chicago church for a year, left the church to publicize immigration reform efforts in Los Angeles, where she was arrested.
Her 8-year-old son, Saul, is a U.S.-born U.S. citizen.
U.S. immigration officials said Arellano was taken to the border crossing at San Ysidro, California, where she was turned over to Mexican authorities.
"ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is responsible for enforcing our nation's immigration laws and making sure they are applied fairly," Jim Hayes, director of ICE's Los Angeles office, told a news conference. "Miss Arellano willfully violated those laws and must face the consequences her illegal actions."
Arellano was a "criminal fugitive from Mexico seeking to elude federal capture," Hayes said. She was removed from the United States in 1997 before illegally entering and being arrested and convicted in 2002 for illegally using another person's social security number to gain employment, he said.
Arellano was working as a janitor at Chicago's O'Hare International airport at the time of her 2002 arrest, he said.
"I think if you put that into appropriate perspective, we have to look back six years ago and see that people who use false identification documents can in fact be very dangerous," Hayes said, referring to the September 11 hijackers.
A small group of protesters and activists condemned the deportation, comparing it to returning a slave to his masters.
"The message we take from the federal government is that there will be no mercy toward the modern day slaves that are the undocumented workers," said Juan Jose Gutierrez, coordinator of Latino Movement USA.
Gutierrez, who said Arellano is an immigrant rights activist, not a criminal, called for a national boycott of work, school and commerce on September 12. He also called for a mass march and rally in Los Angeles on October 12.
After Congress rejected an overhaul of immigration laws in June, the U.S. government said this month it was planning a workplace crackdown on illegal immigrants, an estimated 12 million of whom live in the United States.
Raids and deportations of illegal immigrants are "draconian practices" tearing families apart, Gutierrez said. The protesters noted that Arellano's son remains in this country.
Hayes said Arellano chose to leave her son behind. She was given the option to take the boy to Mexico with her when she was deported, he said.