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Chicago Immigration Activist Marks Year in Church

La Raza, News Report, By Fabiola Pomareda, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Feb 01, 2009

Editor’s Note: Flor Crisóstomo says she’s not going out like Elvira Arellano. The 29-year-old undocumented Mexican has been hiding out for the last year in the same Chicago church where Arellano sought sanctuary. But unlike her predecessor, she says she has no plans of leaving. Arellano was deported to Mexico in 2007 after announcing the end of her sanctuary on her one-year anniversary at the church.

CHICAGO – The fact that she has defied a deportation order for a year wasn’t what led undocumented Mexican undocumented immigrant Flor Crisóstomo, 29, to live in hiding. Her activism through the Internet, press conferences and her contact with people in the U.S. sanctuary movement is constant.

After 12 months of being confined to three rooms on the second floor of a church in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood, Crisóstomo continues to live in uncertainty. But she says she will remain under sanctuary at the San Adalberto United Methodist Church until the government fixes immigration laws ... or until she is deported.
FlorFlor Crisóstomo looks at a photograph of her kids who live in Mexico.
On Jan. 28, surrounded by posters of Barack Obama, candles, flowers and pictures of the Virgen de Guadalupe, the Oaxacan immigrant said, "Here I am and here I’ll stay until the government fixes these broken laws."

According to information from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Mexican entered the United States illegally in August 2000. Six years later, she was arrested in a raid in which various other workers at the IFCO Systems factory were detained.

In October 2006 an immigration court gave her until Jan. 10, 2007 to leave the country. On Nov. 29 of that year, the Board of Appeals denied her appeal and gave her until Jan. 28, 2008 to leave the country voluntarily.

A case like thousands of others

Her case is like that of many immigrants, including the president’s own aunt, Zeituni Onyango, the 56-year-old half-sister of Barack Obama’s late father.

The Kenyan immigrant lived a life of public service in Boston and traveled to Cleveland last year when it became public that she had lived in the country illegally since 2004. A judge recently suspended her deportation order until April of this year, when Onyango is scheduled to have her hearing.

When she heard this news, Crisóstomo said, “Amen, I’m happy for her and hopefully they’ll be able to reopen her case. We need a moratorium on deportations so we can reopen our cases too, because we haven’t killed anyone or robbed anyone,” she said, referring to other undocumented immigrants in the same situation.

‘I did it for my kids’

On the second floor of the church where Crisóstomo lives is a kitchen with a small table, a television and a refrigerator. Next to it is a room where the Mexican works from her laptop, and where she keeps a stationary bicycle and materials to make jewelry. Beyond that is a dining room, her bedroom and bathroom, from which her dog “Chule” can be heard barking.

On the table where she works is a photograph of her kids, 14-year-old Josué, 13-year-old Juan Carlos and 11-year-old Paloma, who live with Crisóstomo’s mother and sister in a town called Sabana Grande, 20 minutes outside of Iguala in the Mexican state of Guerrero.

Walter Coleman, a pastor at the church, says he visited Crisóstomo’s hometown a few months ago. “Flor’s family had a small inn that served the truckers that came through the area transporting the corn they grew there,” he explained.

“After NAFTA went into effect, it destroyed the economy of that small town and now we see fields and fields full of weeds. We see houses and more houses that at one time were homes and are now abandoned,” said the pastor.

‘I have to prepare my path’

Although the picture doesn’t sound encouraging, Crisóstomo is aware that at any moment she might have to return to Mexico. On the same day of the press conference, she was preparing for a fundraising event at a local art gallery.

“The money is going to go toward the creation of a Web site, because I’m preparing a path so I can continue my activism, in case I have to go back to Mexico. Just like it all began, it all has to end,” she said.

When asked if she continues sending money back to her home country, the immigrant says, “Yes, I make money by selling jewelery,” and showed us earrings, bracelets and necklaces, many of them made with feathers and shells. With these funds she also pays her cell phone bill and pays for food.

“Well, it’s just me,” she said. “There are days when if I don’t want to eat, I don’t; and lots of people also send me food," she says. She shares her food with Jacobita, the woman who lives with her at the church. Jacobita also lived with Elvira Arellano in the same place.

"Jacobita is a deacon of the church and she also washes my clothes," she tells us.

'Being cooped up is torture'

“Being cooped up is torture; what an uncertain future!” says a Mexican folk song that was written for Crisóstomo by Ignacio and Santiago Echevarría. The duo, known as “Los dos de Michoacán,” sung at the press conference on Wednesday.

Crisóstomo had lived in the church before, accompanying undocumented immigrant Elvira Arellano, who took refuge there for a year before being arrested and deported in August 2007.

"Psychologically it’s hard because I wasn’t used to living here all day. That’s what hurts me the most because I miss being out on the street, at protests and meetings."

Crisóstomo still remains very active. Actvists in the immigrant sanctuary movement visit her from other cities and states; she participates in teleconferences for the Social Forum of the Americas in Guatemala and the UN’s Permanent Forum for Indigenous Affairs. She maintains a blog and coordinates activities for the group Familia Latina Unida (United Latina Family), among other things.

And when other activists tell her that staying in the church won’t help the immigrant rights movement, she responds, “Yes, we contributed because the whole world is listening; if they weren’t, you wouldn’t be here.

According to a statement released by the regional ICE office, Crisóstomo is still considered a fugitive. “ICE prioritizes enforcement actions based on implications to national security and public safety," ICE announced. "Ms. Crisóstomo will be taken into custody at an appropriate time and place with consideration given to the safety of all involved."

Photo by Fabiola Pomareda

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