Elvira Arellano became the face of immigration reform when she and her U.S.-born son sought refuge in a Chicago church in 2006 to avoid being deported to Mexico.
Arellanos story gained national attention and she was named Time magazines Person of the Year. But in 2007, despite her efforts and support from many people, she was deported.
Arellano and her son, who was 8 years old at the time, moved back to her hometown in Michoacán where she began meeting other people who had also been deported. Their stories motivated her to fight for an immigration reform that would allow deported immigrants, like her, to return to the U.S. and reunite with their loved ones.
Ive met women and men and heard their testimonies of how they were deported and separated from their children who are still living in the U.S., she told Voxxi.
In her fight for immigration reform, she also began learning about the hardships many Central American immigrants face as they travel through Mexico on their way to the U.S. It wasnt long before she began fighting to defend their human rights.
‘Defender of human rights’
After crossing the Mexican border, many Central Americans climb on top of the roof of freight trains that travel from southern to northern Mexico. The journey on the trains usually lasts several days and is plagued with rape and violence. The freight train system is known as The Beast because it has claimed the lives of many people trying to get to the U.S.
I have heard testimonies of Central Americans and how theyre extorted, how theyre kidnapped and how many of them go missing, said Arellano, who now calls herself a defender of human rights.
I have also met Central American mothers who come to Mexico, looking for their missing family members, she added. Theyre from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala.
Though the journey across Mexico is dangerous, it has not deterred Central Americans from making their way to the U.S. Instead, more and more of them are making the treacherous journey every year.
Between 2000 and 2012, the number of Central Americans apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border has more than doubled, rising from 40,000 apprehensions to 99,000. Thats according to a report released last September by the Pew Research Centers Hispanic Trends Project.
The report also shows that the number of unauthorized immigrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border rose slightly in 2012, but only because of the growth in the apprehensions of Central Americans. Meanwhile, apprehensions of Mexicans continued to decline.
Arellano said many Central Americans are making their way to the U.S. because theyre fleeing drug-related violence, crime and poverty in their home countries.
She added that in the last few years, she has been traveling to several states in southern Mexico including Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas and Oaxaca to advocate for the human rights of Central American immigrants. She said she wants them to be able to transit freely through Mexico and have a humane migration thats free from violence.
Elvira Arellano returns to the U.S.
Her work as a human rights activist has resulted in threats and intimidation, which she said is one of the reasons why she is seeking humanitarian parole in the U.S.
On Tuesday, she joined about 20 other Mexican and Central American immigrants to cross the border into the U.S. through the Otay Mesa port of entry. Arellano crossed the border with her U.S.-born son, who is now 15 years old, and her 4-month-old baby. As of Thursday evening, Arellano and another mother were the only ones who had been released.
The border crossing is part of the Bring Them Home campaign, which aims to highlight how families are being separated because of deportations. Those participating in the action are also protesting the nearing 2 million deportations that have occurred under President Barack Obama.
Arellano told Voxxi she decided to participate in the action to stand in solidarity with the families who are trying to reunite with their loved ones in the U.S. The group she crossed with on Tuesday includes mother of at least 14 U.S. citizen children.
I have seen the suffering of each one of these families, she told Voxxi. I have seen their motivation, and I have seen that light of hope in this action of families being able to return in a legal manner to their loved ones in the United States.
She also told other media outlets that she wants to return to the U.S. so that her teenage son, Saúl, can have a better future in Chicago, where he was born.
Regardless of whether she is allowed to stay in the U.S. or is deported to Mexico once again, Arellano plans to continue advocating for immigrant rights.