TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) _ An illegal immigrant who took refuge in a Chicago church for a year to avoid being separated from her American-born son was deported from the United States to Mexico, where she vowed Monday to continue her campaign to change U.S. immigration laws.
Elvira Arellano, 32, became an activist and a national symbol for illegal immigrant parents as she defied her deportation order and spoke out from her sanctuary. She announced last week that she was leaving the Adalberto United Methodist Church to try to lobby U.S. lawmakers.
She had just spoken at a Los Angeles rally when she was arrested Sunday outside Our Lady Queen of Angels church and deported, said the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist.
``They were in a hurry to deport me because they saw that I was threatening to mobilize and organize the people to fight for legalization,'' Arellano said in Spanish outside a Tijuana apartment building where she was staying with a friend. ``I have a fighting spirit and I'm going to continue fighting.''
Arellano, who said she is a single mother, left her 8-year-old son, Saul, in the care of Coelman's family. They were reunited Monday afternoon in Tijuana, but Arellano said her son would be going back to Chicago to live with his godmother and begin third grade in a public school.
``We've all been living together. He knows his mom is OK. He's going to be sad sometimes,'' said the godmother, Emma Lozano, who drove him from Los Angeles to Tijuana.
She also said the boy may tour the U.S. to promote migrant rights. The little boy declined to talk to a reporter.
Mexican authorities did not know the identity or whereabouts of the boy's father, said Luis Cabrera, Mexico's general consul in San Diego.
Opponents of illegal immigration said Arellano's arrest was overdue, and a U.S. immigration official said she had been a criminal fugitive. Mexican authorities said the deportation highlighted a need to overhaul U.S. immigration laws.
``It's tragic when a mother is separated from her son,'' Cabrera said.
Arellano said she may return to her home in the Mexican state of Michoacan and then return to Tijuana in September for a demonstration coinciding with planned immigration protests in the United States.
Jim Hayes, director of ICE in Los Angeles, said ``proper perspective'' should be placed on the woman's case. Using a false identity, as in the case of Arellano, who was convicted of using someone else's Social Security number, can be a threat to national security, he said.
``We don't think she's a martyr,'' Hayes said. ``She was a criminal fugitive who is in violation of the law.''
Anti-illegal immigrant groups applauded the arrest.
``Just because the woman has gone public and made an issue of the fact that she is defying law doesn't mean the government doesn't have to do its job,'' said Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Arellano arrived in Washington state illegally in 1997. She was soon deported to Mexico, but returned and moved to Illinois in 2000, taking a job cleaning planes at O'Hare International Airport.
She was arrested in 2002 at O'Hare and convicted of working under a false Social Security number. She was to surrender to authorities a year ago but instead sought refuge at the church on Aug. 15, 2006.
Immigration activists said they will continue Arellano's plan to go to Washington, D.C., and take part in a prayer meeting and rally for immigration reform on Sept. 12. They also called for a national boycott on that date.
The sentiment was echoed outside an ICE office in Chicago on Monday.
``Her voice will not be silenced,'' activist Jacobita Alonzo told a crowd of about 50 supporters.
Arellano asked to speak with Mexican officials in Los Angeles but was denied, Cabrera said. She was not given access until hours later, at San Diego's Otay Mesa immigration detention center.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement was unaware of any request that Arellano made to speak with Mexican officials in Los Angeles, and Arellano was given extensive access in San Diego Sunday night, agency spokeswoman Lauren Mack said.
Arellano was deported at San Diego's San Ysidro border crossing around 10 p.m. PDT after U.S. authorities determined that she had exhausted her legal recourse.
``This was a very, very sensitive removal for us as well as Mexico,'' Mack said