Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Deportation of High-Profile Immigrant Focuses Attention On Sanctuary Movement

On Sunday night, federal officials arrested and deported high-profile immigration activist, Elvira Arellano, to Mexico. Part of the growing "sanctuary movement", Arellano had taken refuge in Chicago's Adalberto United Methodist Church for the last year, and had become a symbol for immigrant rights activists. Today's Los Angeles Times reports on the arrest and deportation, and the Chicago Tribune reports on Arellano's difficult decision on whether her 8-year old son (who is a U.S. citizen) will stay with her in Mexico or remain in the U.S. Interestingly, officials did not arrest Arellano until she left her sanctuary church in Chicago and went to Los Angeles to attend a rally.

This series of events poses the question of the extent to which government officials are de facto respecting churches as a place of sanctuary, even though it is fairly clear that they have no legal obligation to do so. Arellano said she left Chicago because she thought authorities were preparing to enter the church to arrest her. However, U.S. immigration enforcement officials said that it was her decision to leave the church that led to her arrest. They said it was safer to arrest her outside the church. Rev. Walter "Slim" Coleman, pastor of the Chicago church where Arellano had lived for the past year, said: "I think they obviously didn't want the embarrassment of breaking into a church and separating a mother from her son in front of the cross."

Today's Long Beach (CA) Press Telegram runs an article discussing the sanctuary movement more broadly, with a focus on Los Angeles County. It quotes Chicago's Rev. Coleman who says that the movement is "based on faith, not fear. It's not a place to hide, it's a place to bear witness that this country is destroying families."