Activist Elvira Arellano in US after deportation

March 20, 2014 - 9:34 PM

SAN DIEGO (AP) — A Mexican woman who received widespread attention for taking refuge in a Chicago church before she was deported in 2007 was released from U.S. custody Thursday, two days after she sought permission to enter the country without legal documents.

Elvira Arellano, 38, was paroled by U.S. immigration authorities with her 5-month-old son, Emiliano, who was born in Mexico. They are among about 150 people who have sought to enter the country without legal documents at San Diego's Otay Mesa port of entry since last week in a protest of U.S. immigration policies. Many planned to claim asylum.

"We are pleased to be here with friends who have helped us," Arellano said. "We are going to continue fighting for other fathers and mothers to also be freed."

Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement, confirmed Arellano's release and said an immigration judge would determine the outcome of her case.

People who claim fear of persecution are often released from custody pending the outcome of their cases before immigration judges. It was unclear how many protesters who crossed in San Diego were in custody and how many were paroled.

Unlike similar protests last year in Arizona and Texas, many were not "dreamers" — young adults who came to the U.S. as children. Like Arellano, they were parents of young children.

Arellano said she would return to Chicago, where she has an immigration hearing next month. She reunited Thursday with Saul, her 15-year-old son who was born in the U.S. and joined her when crossing the border two days earlier.

For years, Arellano has been an outspoken advocate of overhauling U.S. immigration laws and a critic of President Barack Obama for the roughly 2 million deportations that have occurred under his watch. During marches last week in Tijuana, she rallied the crowd with a bullhorn.

Arellano hired a smuggler to come to the U.S. illegally in the 1990s and, after three years in Yakima, Wash., moved to Chicago, where she cleaned airplanes for a contractor at O'Hare International Airport. She was arrested in an immigration sting in 2002.

Rather than surrender to immigration authorities, she took refuge at the Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago in August 2006. She left after more than a year for a publicity tour that that took her to Los Angeles, where authorities arrested her near a church. She was swiftly deported to Tijuana.

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Tamara reported from Los Angeles.