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Immigrant, famous for hiding in church, freed from U.S. detention

By Marty Graham

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - A Mexican immigrant activist, who once famously sought refuge from deportation in a Chicago church, has been released from detention, U.S. immigration officials said on Friday, after she returned to the United States seeking to stay on humanitarian grounds.

Elvira Arellano, who was deported in 2007 after a year-long standoff, was taken into custody after she re-entered the country this week at San Diego with her two children, a teenager who is a U.S. citizen and an infant.

She led a group of dozens of mostly young undocumented immigrant deportees in crossing back into the United States, while protesting the plight of immigrants deported to a sometimes violent country where they feel like strangers.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said she had been released on Thursday, and activists said she and her infant son had been reunited with her 15-year-old son at the home of activists who sheltered him when his mother was detained.

"She will go before an immigration judge in a month," said Enrique Morones, an immigrant activist. "She wants to go back to Chicago soon. That's where her son grew up and her friends are. She wants to live with her son."

Arellano turned herself in to federal border authorities on Tuesday. Many of the deportees with her said they would have been protected in the United States and allowed to attend college with in-state tuition fees if Congress had passed the 2010 Dream Act. Others have relatives who are U.S. citizens.

Arellano attracted national attention and was named a person of the year by Time magazine for staying in the cramped storefront Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago for one year, invoking the traditional protection of sanctuary.

She eventually left the church with her son Saul, then 8, to join a march for immigration reform, and was deported to Mexico in August 2007.

Arellano entered the United States illegally in 1997, was returned to Mexico, then recrossed the border and was working at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2002 when she was arrested in an immigration sweep.

She was convicted of working under a false Social Security number and, after several delays, ordered deported.

(Reporting by Marty Graham; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

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