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For mother and son, an immigration predicament

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"It's quite easy from a legal perspective," says Carlina Tapia, president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association in Chicago, noting that Arellano forfeited any right to legal challenges or benefits when she became a fugitive.

From the political and moral perspectives, Ms. Tapia says, the case is more complicated. She hopes it leads lawmakers to "work on the difficult task of compromise" on immigration reform, though she's skeptical that it will.

The Rev. Walter Coleman, the pastor who took Arellano in, estimates that nearly 6,000 supporters have come to the church in the past two weeks. But Arellano's critics have been equally vocal: The Chicago Tribune editorialized against her stand, as did several columnists who say her defiance is the wrong way to go about reform.

Her stand "is arrogant and defiant, and that's probably the worst thing about it," says Rosanna Pulido of the Illinois Minuteman Civil Defense. "If our laws are wrong, go back to Mexico."

During a candlelight vigil at the church last week, families packed the sweltering church and representatives from Arab, African, Korean, and Polish communities talked about the larger issues they say her case represents. "This is a critical, defining moment for our country, and it should be a moment of mercy," said Rami Nashashibi of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, joining others in a call for a moratorium on raids and deportations "unless and until we get comprehensive immigration reform."

Roberto Lopez of Centro Sin Fronteras, the local group supporting her, says they never planned her case to draw so much national attention. Arellano has been an activist for immigrant families for several years, and when she got the deportation notice it was a shock, he says. Originally discovered by agents several years ago while working as a janitor at Chicago's O'Hare Airport under a false Social Security number, Arellano had been granted a stay of departure because of requests from legislators and medical needs of her son.

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