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November 16, 2008
A study by the Pew Hispanic Center found most undocumented immigrants are from Mexico, but there were also citizens with European spouses at the Chicago meeting.
Brian Wilkins, 31, is married to a Bulgarian woman, 26, who was ordered to leave the country after her father's application for permanent residency was denied. Wilkins, who met his wife while selling merchandise on a Britney Spears concert tour, is selling his two suburban Chicago houses and moving to Bulgaria with his wife Dec. 27, even though he doesn't speak the language.
Chicago has led the way in shedding light on such mixed-status families.
In August 2006, Elvira Arellano, the single mother of a U.S.-born son, defied a deportation order and took refuge in a church on Chicago's west side for a year until she was arrested after a speaking engagement in Los Angeles. She now lives in Mexico with her son, Saul, 9, and continues to lobby for immigration reform.
Another Mexican immigrant with a 2006 deportation order, Flor Crisostomo, is "taking sanctuary," as she and supporters say, in the same church.
Some advocates are worried that the administration will not make immigration a priority because of the economic crisis and the controversial nature of the debate.
But Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said the economy makes it imperative to address the situation.
"In a time of economic crisis, it's important to prevent unscrupulous employers from pulling down wages by hiring undocumented workers," he said. "The deportation-only strategy has the effect of destroying families, including the families of many U.S. citizens. If you believe the family is the basic social unit, then that sacred unit should be preserved, and it should not be an ideological or partisan issue."