In sanctuary, Mexican mother fights for dignity

CHICAGO — Josué, 14, Juan, 11 and Paloma, 9, live with their grandmother in a small rural town in the state of Guerrero, Mexico. They have not seen their mother, Flor Crisostomo, 28, since she crossed the Arizona desert in June 2000, to find work in the U.S. so she could support them.

Crisostomo was arrested during a 2006 immigration raid at a pallet-making company here. After two years of exhaustive legal appeals, Homeland Security ordered her to return to Mexico by Jan. 28. But she decided to take sanctuary at the Adalberto United Methodist Church on the city’s northwest side.

“I came here seven years ago because NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) made it impossible to feed my children in my hometown and that situation has only gotten worse,” Crisostomo told the World, speaking in Spanish.

She said the Mexican government predicts that with the final reduction of tariffs on corn, beans, sugar and powdered milk under NAFTA policies, as many as a million more out-of-work Mexican farmers will try crossing the deadly U.S.-Mexican border to find work.

“I am not leaving. I am taking a stand of civil disobedience,” Crisostomo said. “I believe with all my heart that the U.S. and Mexico must end the system of exploiting undocumented labor.

“The raids and deportations make undocumented workers live in fear,” she added. “The no-match letters force us into worse jobs. But even a poor job here is better than no job.”

(The Social Security Administration mails no-match letters to employers, stating that an employee’s social security number does not match SSA’s records. Many result from clerical error; they are not cause for firings.)

Crisostomo’s experience illustrates a root problem of the current immigration system. At the same time Homeland Security and anti-immigrant and anti-worker laws make it harder for undocumented workers to survive here, NAFTA’s policies have devastated the rural economies of Mexico, putting family farmers out of work. (see related story on page 4)

Elvira Arellano also stood up for immigrant rights and for her U.S. citizen son. She was in sanctuary at the same church for a year before she was deported back to Mexico last summer. She and Crisostomo are good friends.

“It’s a very important time to fight for immigration reform during election time,” Arellano said, in a phone interview, speaking in spanish from Mexico. She added that people need to go out and vote for change so Congress and the next president can act on immigration reform.

“Flor is a part of my family and is a very important person who was there for me while I was in sanctuary,” said Arellano. “She is a mother who has sacrificed a lot for her children despite all the difficulties. We in Mexico are in solidarity with her, we wish her courage and we are praying for her and all the undocumented workers in the U.S.”

Crisostomo hopes that the U.S. and Mexico will realize one way to fix the broken immigration laws and make the borders safe and secure is to renegotiate NAFTA and other financial agreements that have destroyed local economies.

She said she is fighting for all immigrant families in the U.S. “I will not be a symbol of fear to spread among my people. I hope that adding my grain of sand to the struggle will help to get the U.S. Congress to act now,” she said.

Crisostomo knows that by taking this action there is little chance that she will ever achieve legal status to stay in the U.S.

“I may face time in prison. But when I do return to my children, I will not return, as so many have, empty-handed and unable to provide for them. I will be able to give them the only thing I can pass on to them: My dignity.”

Supporters of Flor Crisostomo can make a donation by sending a check to

Adalberto United Methodist Church

2716 W. Division St.

Chicago, IL 60622.