Elvira Arellano's story starts out with the most understandable (if expedient and wrong-headed) rationale for breaking American immigration law. Poor and Mexican, she figured that she could make a better life for herself if she crossed the border illegally and found work.
But the events that followed her initial crossing in 1997 -- culminating in Arellano's arrest and deportation Sunday -- illustrate the corrosive effects that illegal immigration can have on those who break immigration law. No wonder so many Americans opposed the so-called immigration reform package as they feared the bill would not only reward scofflaws, but support activists' apparent belief that there is nothing wrong with flouting American law.
"We immigrants need representation," Arellano complained last year, according to The Associated Press. "The millions of Mexican immigrants who are living in the U.S. are being treated like criminals. I'm not a criminal. I'm a mother who worked to support my son in this country."
Actually, Arellano is a convicted felon.
When Arellano snuck across the border in August 1997, she was caught and deported. Arellano then chose to break American law again. She re-entered the country -- a felony that, if prosecuted, is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
In December 2002, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested Arellano at Chicago's O'Hare Airport.
According to ICE, Arellano was "working illegally for a janitorial services business whose employees had access to security sensitive areas." Subsequently, Arellano was convicted for using someone else's Social Security number -- a felony.
After three years of probation, Arellano was supposed to be deported in August 2006. Instead, she and her son Saul, 8, sought sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago.
This weekend, Arellano left the church to speak at a rally in Los Angeles, where she was arrested. At Arellano's request, her son remains in America with the family of Pastor Walter Coleman.
Arellano and her defenders argue that because Saul is a U.S. citizen, Elvira should not be forced to return to Mexico and that the U.S. government should not split up families.
Of course, if family unification were important to Elvira Arellano, she should have stayed in Mexico with her family.
Now, she is free to bring her son to Mexico to live with her.
ICE spokeswoman Gail Montenegro noted that it is sad that the son will pay for his mother's choices. And: "ICE is not in the business of separating families. Ultimately parents must take the responsibility for the outcome of their illegal actions or decisions." And it's odd how citizenship -- her son's, that is -- suddenly is all important for Arellano, when it was a niggling detail when she chose to violate U.S. law.
Clearly, Arellano believes that she has not only a right to violate American law, but also that she should be rewarded for doing so. "God wants me to serve as an example of the hatred and hypocrisy of the current administration," she told the Chicago Tribune.
It's that attitude that has many Americans wondering why it took so long for authorities to deport Arellano.
Thank Congress. Illinois Democrats -- Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Luis Guttierez -- sponsored "private bills," special legislation designed to help an individual or named group, to make Arellano a permanent resident. (Durbin cited Saul's need for American health care due to a "medical emergency" -- reportedly attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other health problems.) While the bills didn't pass, they served to delay Arellano's deportation.
While Arellano has urged supporters to pressure Durbin and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., to introduce "my private bill" again, neither senator has obliged.
Only the most overzealous activist would support the notion that national borders have no meaning or that a country should let foreigners break their laws, trade in fraudulent documents and violate deportation orders with impunity.
It's bad enough that so many non-citizens freely break this country's duly enacted laws. But when they feel that they can break our laws openly and without consequence, they have to go. Or all respect for the law will go.