The lightning-swift deportation of Elvira Arellano triggered an equally sharp debate Monday about whether her dramatic battle to stay in the U.S. will help or hurt attempts to liberalize immigration laws.
The undocumented Chicago resident was arrested Sunday in Los Angeles shortly after leaving her yearlong sanctuary in a Northwest Side church. Federal agents then dispatched Arellano, 32, across the border to Tijuana.
She was followed by her 8-year-old son, who is a U.S. citizen, but a family friend said the boy probably would return to Chicago soon for school.
Activists on both sides of the emotional immigration battle have latched on to Arellano's story as a rallying cry for their points of view.
Arellano and her son now represent "the human face, the human suffering" caused by immigration law that "rips good families apart," said a spokesman for Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.).
But Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said Arellano was a blatant lawbreaker.
"They are trying to portray her as a modern-day Rosa Parks," said Mehlman, whose group wants tighter border enforcement.
"The people who have been promoting her seem to think she was this sympathetic figure because she had a sick child. But children are not human shields."
The Latino community also seemed divided over Arellano, with some viewing her as a less-than-perfect icon for the plight of the undocumented.
At Taqueria Aguascalientes, a restaurant on Cermak Road in Cicero, Miguel Alvarez shrugged when asked about the Arellano deportation.
"It's messed up," said the U.S.-born Alvarez, 19, whose parents are both immigrants. "Let her stay. Doesn't she have kids or something?"
Waiting for work with other day laborers down the street outside a Home Depot, Ricardo Garcia Perez said he was happy to hear of Arellano's arrest.
"She reflects badly on all Mexicans," said Garcia Perez, a Mexican native. "It seems fair. She got caught. It was terrible that she stayed in that church. There are many people who get caught. They go."
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