Mexico's Congress was swayed Tuesday by a 7-year-old boy on a mission to keep his mom in the U.S.
Second-grader Saul Arellano, a U.S. citizen, appeared in Mexico's 500-member Chamber of Deputies to plead for help in lobbying Washington to stop the deportation of his mother, an illegal immigrant who has taken refuge in a Chicago church.
His efforts paid off with a unanimous resolution calling on the Bush administration to suspend the deportation of Elvira Arellano and any other illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens.
If President Bush were to agree, it would "create a precedent that will benefit more than 4.9 million children who have been born in the United States and whose parents live under the threat of deportation," said Mexican Rep. Jose Jacques, who lived in the U.S. for 33 years and has an American daughter and granddaughter.
Flashing cameras and swarms of reporters surrounded the boy as he entered the massive chamber. But instead of stepping up to the podium, he was swept into a side room, where he hid his face and ducked under a table after lawmakers rose from their seats to shake his hand.
"I think being so small he was kind of freaked," said Jesus Carlin, who identified himself as a friend of the family.
Arellano then took the microphone and, speaking softly in Spanish, described what he wanted from Mexico's lawmakers: "I want them to tell President Bush to end the deportations so that my mother and other families can stay together in the United States."
The Arellanos have had some help in their campaign, from the Chicago-based immigrant rights group Centro Sin Fronteras and its president, Emma Lozano, who says the case is being used as an example to send a strong message to Congress on the issue of immigration.
U.S. federal officials say there is no right to sanctuary in a church under U.S. law, and nothing to prevent them from arresting Elvira Arellano, who has lived at the church since Aug. 15, the day she was supposed to surrender for deportation. But so far, they have not moved to seize her, and support for their case has grown among U.S. politicians.
Arellano, 31, said she sent her son to her homeland because she believes the Mexican government has the ability to help her.
"If the Mexican government can negotiate a free-trade agreement, they can negotiate a good accord to keep families from being split up," she said.
Arellano said she was nervous about sending her son, who had never before traveled to Mexico. Saul was afraid his mother would be deported while he was gone. "I told him to be calm, everything would be fine and I would be here waiting for him."
President Vicente Fox, who leaves office Dec. 1, failed during his six-year term to persuade the U.S. Congress to approve a migration accord allowing thousands of Mexicans to work legally in the United States. While President Bush personally supports a temporary guest worker program, Republicans in Congress opted to strengthen border security instead.
Rep. Andres Bermudez from Fox's National Action Party - who years ago crossed illegally into California and has three children born in the U.S. - said that all Mexican lawmakers can do is draw attention to the "unjust" case. "We can't order the U.S. government to do something against the law," he said.
Arellano said she should not have to choose between leaving her son behind in the U.S. or bringing him to Mexico, away from his school, friends and familiar environment.
Conservative columnists and anti-illegal immigration activists say she put herself and her son in this difficult spot by repeatedly breaking the law.
Arellano illegally crossed into the United States in 1997 and was deported shortly afterward. She returned within days, living for three years in Oregon before moving to Chicago in 2000.
She was arrested two years later at O'Hare International Airport, where she worked as a cleaning woman. Convicted of working under a false Social Security number, she served three years probation before being ordered to appear at the immigration office in Chicago.
Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar told reporters Tuesday that the Mexican Consulate in Chicago has been in constant contact with Elvira Arellano and "will continue working to help Mrs. Arellano obtain authorization from the U.S. Government to remain in the United States."
The Mexican government acknowledges "that a U.S. law has been broken," Aguilar added. "But we think there exist certain elements of a humanitarian nature that should be taken into account to avoid splitting up the family."