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Church Rallies around Woman Battling to Stay in U.S.

by Kathy L. Gilbert

CHICAGO (UMNS) - Elvira Arellano, a lay leader in Adalberto United Methodist Church, has taken refuge in the church that has stood by her in her battle to remain in the United States and to raise her son - who is a U.S. citizen - here.

"Here is an opportunity for a country that says they care about children to care for a child," said United Methodist Bishop Minerva Carcaño, on CNN's "Lou Dobbs Tonight" show Aug. 16.

Carcaño, bishop of the denomination's Phoenix Area, was in Chicago for the 2006 International Clergywomen's Consultation. She has been a spokesperson for the United Methodist Council of Bishops in calling for immigration reform.

"The United Methodist Church stands with families like Miss Arellano," she said. "It is an issue of justice that she be allowed to stay with her young son."

Carcaño, along with Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, Chicago Area, and the Rev. James Preston, Chicago Northwestern District superintendent, visited Arellano in the church Aug. 16.

"You could see the burden in her eyes," Carcaño said. "It was a very moving moment to see her surrounded by others in the community. She is acting out of the motives of a mother and her Christian convictions."

Jung released a statement that Arellano was invoking "the centuries-old Christian tradition of sanctuary" and "the tradition of civil disobedience."

"While as Christians we may disagree over the best way to fix the nation's broken immigration system, we affirm that the Bible directs us to care for foreigners in our midst (Exodus 23:9) and reminds us that we too are sojourners (Leviticus 25:23)," Jung said.

The church has said the current immigration bill in Congress is "unjust," Carcaño told Dobbs. "We are not talking about partisan politics; this is matter of moral justice."

Arellano sought refuge in her church after federal authorities ordered her to report to the Department of Homeland Security Aug. 15. The Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto, and church members have been active in seeking comprehensive immigration reform.

In an interview with United Methodist News Service in June, Coleman talked about Arellano's three-year struggle to stay in this country.

FBI agents raided her home three years ago at 6 a.m. and arrested her in front of her then-4-year-old son, Coleman said.

Arellano was a cleaning woman at O'Hare International Airport and was arrested during an immigration sweep in 2002. She had been using a fake Social Security number to work in the United States.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., urged officials to let Arellano remain in Chicago to care for her son, Saul, who had health problems. In an article in the Chicago Tribune, Durbin said the boy's condition has improved.

In a statement released Aug. 15, Durbin said, "It is an unfortunate truth that scores of people are in the same situation as Elvira and her family. We cannot fix the injustices of this system with private bills. Only comprehensive immigration reform can permanently remedy this situation."

In fighting to stay in the country, Coleman said Arellano wanted her son to know "he was a child of God."

"She said she wasn't fighting because she was afraid to go back to Mexico, but she wanted her son to know he was a child of God and not a piece of garbage that could be used, abused and then thrown away," Coleman said.

Arellano is also president of La Familia Latina Unida, an organization calling upon President George Bush to set an immediate moratorium on all raids, deportations and separation of families "until Congress fixes its broken immigration laws."

The church has always stood with the foreigner and provided a place of refuge, Carcaño said during the interview with Dobbs. "This is a young woman who is a leader in her church. We will prayerfully and watchfully stand with her."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.


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Date posted: Aug 17, 2006