The son of a Mexican woman who became a symbol of the U.S. immigration reform movement by taking sanctuary in a Chicago church to try to avoid deportation pushed lawmakers in Washington Wednesday to help families like his.
Saul Arellano and other young U.S. citizens whose parents have been deported, or are in detention for immigration violations, shared their stories with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, just days before the Senate is set to debate a possible overhaul of the U.S. immigration system.
“It’s been 10 painful years,” said Arellano, reflecting on the time since his mother first faced legal troubles and was later deported for living and working illegally in the U.S.
He said his one dream is for the U.S. to pass immigration reform, “because many families are being separated, and that is not fair.”
The U.S.-born Arellano, now a teenager, currently lives with his mother Elvira in Michoacan, Mexico. The pair became the unlikely stars of a national drama that unfolded in 2006, when the woman took sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, Illinois, in the mid-western United States. In an effort to stay close to her son, she evaded deportation for immigration violations but was swiftly returned to Mexico when she left the church to lobby her case in California.
While in Washington, Arellano said he hoped to see President Barack Obama, whom he met once before when the president was a senator in Illinois, pushing for immigration reform to help people like Arellano.
Emma Lozano, a spokeswoman for Familia Latina Unida, an advocacy group co-founded by Elvira Arellano, urged Obama to use his executive powers on deportations, as he did with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals memorandum.
Last year’s so-called DACA memorandum protected some undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children from deportation.
“Obama should use his executive powers like he used for DACA and all those eligible under the Senate bill. He should stop those deportations immediately,” Lozano said. “We need a solution now.”
The Obama administration has removed more undocumented immigrants from the country than any other presidency, overseeing the deportation of nearly 400,000 people annually since 2009, according to the Pew Research Hispanic Center.
Not all of those people have children in the U.S., but many do. A new report by Human Impact Partners says an estimated 152,000 children were affected by the 88,517 deportations of undocumented immigrants last year who said they had at least one U.S. citizen child.
The California-based health research and advocacy group says those children, as well as the more than four million others who live in families where one or more of their parents are undocumented, face anxiety and fear that could result in mental health and behavioral problems.
The group, like Arellano and Familia Latina Unida, are pushing for the Obama administration to help reunite families separated by deportation.
The immigration reform bill, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, is expected to come under review by the full Senate next week. To become law, it needs to be approved by both the Senate and House of Representatives, and signed by the president.
The current bill would provide more opportunities for individuals deported from the U.S. to re-enter the country. An applicant without a criminal conviction, who is also a spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, or who entered the country as a child and meets some other requirements, could potentially get a waiver to return to the States.