I sat with Elvira Arellano at a press conference last weekend with representatives of our sanctuary families in Los Angeles. Several of the reporters asked her if she believed that she was the Rosa Parks of the immigrant rights movement. Her response was simple and clear – “I am Elvira Arrellano, just a mother who does not want to be separated from my child nor to take him away from his country.”
Of course, she is now deported and has to face the terrible choice of being apart from her son or keeping him from all of the benefits and opportunities that are his birthright as an American citizen.
Why did Elvira risk deportation by leaving sanctuary? Elvira’s stated purpose in risking deportation was to renew attention to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of families like hers – families that are facing the threat of being broken by a broken immigration system – and to issue an urgent call for comprehensive immigration reform.
We have been asked repeatedly about the impact of Elvira’s arrest on the New Sanctuary Movement. Across the country, the impact is consistent. We are saddened by her arrest, and we know that many immigrant families are experiencing greater trauma and fear as a result. However, her courage is also inspiring the families in sanctuary and their allies to strengthen our efforts to make visible the unjust suffering of children and their families.
We are committed to continue and to expand the New Sanctuary Movement because we believe that true immigration reform will require that many more native-born Americans and immigrants across the nation understand the contribution of immigrants to our society, the path to a humane and effective immigration system, and the current suffering of families.
We believe that this understanding will only come when non-immigrants know immigrant families personally as members of the same human family, beloved by God.
We believe that by continuing to make visible the faces and stories of immigrant families facing deportation, in the light of spiritual principles and moral values, we will, in God’s time:
- Change the hearts and minds of those who currently want to deport immigrant workers and their families.
- Inspire supportive community members to active and ongoing civic participation.
- Heal immigrant workers and their families who are traumatized by the current waves of hatred and rejection and enable them to participate actively in education and advocacy.
Rev. Alexia Salvatierra is the executive director of CLUE (Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice), an organization of religious leaders in Los Angeles county who support low-wage workers in their struggle for a living wage, health insurance, fair working conditions, and a voice in the decisions that affect them.