By Sophia Tareen
The Associated Press, January 27, 2009
Chicago -- Flor Crisostomo has quietly spent the last year inside a Chicago church writing letters, meeting with school groups and organizing political demonstrations toward her goal of U.S. Immigration reform.
The illegal immigrant has defied a deportation order to her native Mexico and lived at Adalberto United Methodist Church, hoping to draw attention to Immigration reform at a time when the economy and election of a new U.S. president have taken center stage.
'We have to have a plan,' she told The Associated Press late Tuesday, the eve of her one-year anniversary at the church. 'My people need a voice.'
Unlike her predecessor at the church, the 29-year-old Crisostomo said she has no immediate plans to leave. Immigration activist Elvira Arellano announced the end of her sanctuary at the same church in 2007 on her one-year anniversary. She was arrested and deported to Mexico shortly after leaving.
Crisostomo, who has also pushed for a renegotiation of North American Free Trade Agreement, said her work isn't done and she wants President Barack Obama to make good on campaign promises for reform. She wrote an open letter to Obama and planned to read it Wednesday at a news conference at the church.
'No one wants to end the system of undocumented labor more than the undocumented. That system left me unprotected from exploitation as a worker and unable to visit my children in Mexico. With legalization, we can also have employment verification and enforcement without destroying the lives of families and the economy of the Latino community,' she wrote, according to a copy of the letter sent to The Associated Press.
Crisostomo said the hardest part about the last year has been getting politicians to listen to her message and living without her three children who are in Mexico with their grandmother.
'My children are strong and they understand why I am fighting,' she said.
Crisostomo left her three children in Iguala Guerrero, Mexico, in 2000 when she paid a smuggler to drive her across the border. She said she was unable to find a job in Mexico that would support her family.
Once in the U.S., she worked at a factory and was able to send home hundreds of dollars each week for her family. But she was arrested by Immigration authorities in 2006, during raids on IFCO Systems North America sites across the country. She was scheduled for deportation, but took sanctuary at the church instead.
Agents with Immigration Customs and Enforcement have not made attempts to go inside the church and arrest her.
'Ms. Crisostomo will be taken into custody at an appropriate time and place with consideration given to the safety of all involved,' according to a statement from ICE. 'Despite the government's considerable efforts to allow her to return to her home country on her own, Ms. Crisostomo has chosen to continue to violate our nation's Immigration laws and the judge's orders and is currently considered to be an Immigration fugitive.'
Crisostomo has said it is worth any risk, even as is criticized by anti-illegal Immigration groups like the Illinois Minutemen Project and the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration. They claim the sanctuary incites the public and mocks Immigration laws on the books.
Crisostomo said her situation illustrates the plight of millions of illegal immigrants living in the U.S. She claims that economic situations have worsened in Mexico because of NAFTA and other U.S. policies.
'My family has told me to continue -- until there is some victory for all of us, the light in the darkness, some way out of this terrible situation,' she wrote in the letter. 'So today I ask my God to give me strength and courage to continue. Here I am and here I will stay until this government fixes the broken law.'