An illegal immigrant who took refuge in a church for more than a year to avoid deportation has left the sanctuary to attend an immigration rights rally in Los Angeles, California, a friend said.
Elvira Arellano left the church for the first time since seeking sanctuary there on Aug. 15 last year and was traveling to California by car on Friday, Emma Lozano, head of immigration rights group Centro Sin Fronteras, said from Los Angeles.
Arellano is accompanied by people close to her, Lozano said, including the Reverend Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church where she and her son have lived for more than a year.
Lozano declined to say whether Arellano's eight-year-old son, Saul, is with her.
She also declined to give specifics about when Arellano left the storefront church on Chicago's West Side, but Arellano's last public appearance there was on Wednesday, when she announced plans to travel next month to Washington in what many expected to be her first venture from the church.
"She's not alone and she's got a lot of company and on her way," Lozano said on Friday night. "And she'll be here tomorrow, so we're really looking forward to that."
The Los Angeles march was set for yesterday morning. Arellano plans a press conference at La Placita, which Lozano described as a prominent Catholic church.
A message seeking comment was left late on Friday night with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.
On Wednesday, Arellano announced she would travel to Washington to lobby for immigration reform and participate in a prayer meeting Sept. 12.
Arellano came illegally to the US in 1997. She was deported to Mexico shortly after, but returned in 2000, taking a cleaning job at O'Hare International Airport.
She was arrested in 2002 at O'Hare and later convicted of working under a false Social Security Number. She was to surrender to authorities last August, but asked instead to take refuge at her church to avoid deportation and separation from her son, who is a US citizen.
The 32-year-old has since become an international symbol of the struggles of illegal immigrant parents and a source of controversy, praised for her steadfastness and criticized as a scofflaw.
Lozano said on Friday she is nervous about Arellano's trip, but optimistic and glad she's made it this far.
"Many people were saying, `Isn't she afraid, leaving sanctuary?'" she said. "But we have to remember that Homeland Security has said `we will come and we will get her whenever the time is right' and when they see fit. I think the threat was already there and has been there every day."