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Local church joins in immigration struggle

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A UMNS photo by Linda S. Rhodes

The Rev. Oscar Carrasco, Northern Illinois Conference director of connectional ministries, offers support to Elvira Arellano as she begins a 21-day hunger strike.

June 13, 2006

A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

About three years ago, FBI agents raided the home of Elvira Arellano at 6 a.m. and arrested her in front of her 4-year-old son.

“Her crime was working for minimum wage cleaning out airplanes,” said the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, where Arellano is lay leader.

Arellano, an undocumented worker, decided to fight back. Adalberto United Methodist Church joined her.

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

She and Flor Crisostomo, another worker arrested and put into deportation proceedings, just finished a hunger strike that lasted from May 10 to June 1, the date of a court hearing to hear their cases.

From Advent to harvest

Adalberto Church has been involved with immigration issues for the last 15 years, but the involvement became more intense after Arellano’s arrest, Coleman said.

“Each year, we go through the seasons from Advent to harvest and try to make a case for stopping the separation of families,” he said. A resolution passed by the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference last year supported reunification of families and comprehensive immigration reform.

Official figures show more than 2 million families are “mixed status,” meaning one or more family members are legal citizens or have permanent legal status. “This involves over 3 million children and another 1 to 1.5 million spouses,” Coleman said.

“That means 6 million people in this country have roots here, have children and are working and paying taxes and doing what they are supposed to do,” he says. “They have been accepted into the economy, community and churches of this country.”

La Familia Latina Unida started with 35 families in mixed status. The organization has been the subject of more than 400 news, radio and television stories, Coleman says. They have made six trips to Washington and met with about 40 members of the Senate and some 85 U.S. Congressmen, Coleman said.

“They have traveled to every congressional office in the state of Illinois.”

God’s children

The recent Senate debate focused on issues of national security, economics and family unity, Coleman said.

“We feel like that is really the contribution of people of faith like Elvira, who said we don’t know what is going to happen to us but we want to struggle because this is what God has asked us to do — to show our children that they have dignity and that they are God’s children.”

The children are under intense stress, Coleman said. Arellano’s son was afraid to go to school because he thought his mother might disappear.

“That torture is really magnified 3 million times across this country,” he said. “And they are U.S. citizens.”

Many have called the children of immigrants “anchor babies,” Coleman said. The term refers to children born to illegal alien mothers within U.S. borders because they act as an anchor to pull their mothers into permanent U.S. residency.

“That is a very racist statement,” Coleman said. “These children are not anchors they are angels.”

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

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

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