Arellano first crossed illegally into the United States in 1997 and was taken into custody and deported. She returned and lived in Oregon for three years before moving to Chicago. Two years later she was arrested at O’Hare Airport. Failing to report to immigration authorities, she sought sanctuary in the Adalberto United Methodist Church in the Humboldt Park area of Chicago’s West Side, with his American son Saul (born in 1999 in the United States).
“Her crime was working for minimum wage cleaning out airplanes,” said the Rev. Walter Coleman, pastor of Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago, where Arellano is lay leader. Arellano, an undocumented worker, decided to fight back. Adalberto United Methodist Church joined her. 
Arellano is president of an organization called United Latino Family, which lobbies for families that could be split by deportation. She has become something of a local symbol for those who most ardently believe U.S. immigration law is patently unfair.
According to Chicago Tribune's editorial (August 17, 2006) "That doesn't mean her example is helpful to their cause. It is not." 
Elvira Arellano was arrested on August 19, 2007 in Los Angeles and repatriated to Mexico.