Saturday, August 26, 2006

Vote if you support Elvira Arellano

Vote if you support Elvira Arellano
Copyright by The Chicago Sun Times
August 26, 2006

The children and voting. To me, that's what Elvira Arellano's battle to stay in the United States should be all about. I'm glad her supporters are of the same opinion.

Since I first heard about Arellano, the undocumented worker who has taken sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church to avoid deportation to Mexico, my prevailing question has been this: What about the rights of her 7-year-old son, Saul, who is an American citizen? We should be concerned about his rights. You start trampling on the rights of one citizen, and where does it end?

So I was glad to see that a petition is being filed in federal court to vacate her deportation. The petition says that because Arellano and Saul have no other family members in the United States who could take care of the 7-year-old if she were deported, what will happen is the United States will be deporting a U.S. citizen, too. Because that is exactly what we'll be seeing: an American citizen forced to leave the Land of the Free, Home of the Brave. A child will have to choose between mom and his country of birth, the United States. That's homeland security? I don't think so.

A lot of people have said we cannot make exceptions for one mother and one child. Sorry, that's so shortsighted and denies the real family situations in this current battle over immigration. Saul and Elvira Arellano are just the public faces of a situation that is a reality in many homes across the United States.

By even conservative estimates, there are more than 3 million U.S. citizens -- children just like Saul -- whose parents are undocumented workers. These are children who were born here, which makes them just as American as George W. Bush. These are American children who, just like Citizen Saul, worry every day that Mom or Dad or both parents will be plucked away from them just like that. This, in the country that loves to drape itself in "family values." Where is the value of ripping American citizens away from their parents?

And just as those children suffer, so does little Citizen Saul. I stopped by the church this week, a modest yet well-cared-for storefront house of worship, and talked to its leader, the Rev. Walter Coleman. Many question Arellano's motives because Coleman is a longtime activist on social issues. Frankly, I think it was her lucky day when their paths crossed. This is a man who knows how to help the little people get their voices heard.

According to Coleman, Citizen Saul is having problems with separation anxiety. If mom is out of sight even briefly, he is anxiously searching her out. He may be only 7, but I bet he understands quite clearly that at any moment she could be taken away. That's no way for any child to live.

OK, before you all rip out your pens or start hammering away on the e-mails, let me say this: The millions of undocumented workers didn't just get here overnight. As Coleman pointed out, undocumented workers have been here for about a century. Why? Because their presence here worked to the advantage of businesses and our government.

And, yes, I realize Arellano came across the border illegally twice. For every comfortable U.S. citizen who tells me that, I wonder, how would you react if you and your family were so poor and hungry and just to the north there were jobs to end that misery? Desperate people do desperate things, especially with opportunity so close they can almost touch it.

In the church, right in front of a little basket with buttons that bear a photo of Citizen Saul and mom, hangs another important part of Elvira Arellano's battle, a voter registration form. There's a pile of them nearby, too. Coleman and other volunteers are working on putting up kiosks -- a thousand of them -- in neighborhood businesses starting next week.

By Coleman's estimates, they could register 100,000 new voters. As Coleman says, those who can vote should "vote for those who can't." Now that's the Coleman I remember from watching him during the Harold Washington era. Power to the people.

Supporters of Elvira Arellano who can vote should indeed first register to vote, and second, exercise that right. Make sure the politicians know you're doing it, too. For voting is the only way to make those in power sit up and pay attention.

Those who are eligible to vote and believe that this broken system of immigration should be fixed, here's your chance. Register. Vote. The elections in November are coming up. Let your voices be heard.


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