Chicago Church Offers Sanctuary to 2nd Illegal Immigrant

Tara Malone, Chicago Tribune, January 28, 2008

The tiny storefront church that sheltered Elvira Arellano in yearlong defiance of a federal deportation order is poised to give sanctuary to another undocumented immigrant facing deportation, church leaders said Sunday.

Flor Crisostomo, 28, said she is slated to surrender to federal immigration authorities Monday, an order that followed her 2006 arrest during a nationwide raid of the IFCO Systems pallet company that netted 26 illegal immigrant workers in Chicago.

On Sunday, the factory worker turned community activist retreated to pray and consider her options at Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. She intends to formally announce her decision Monday, but Crisostomo and church leaders said she plans to follow Arellano’s lead and seek sanctuary within church grounds.

“It is very difficult to make this decision. Whatever it is, it will be worthwhile. . . It’s not just to benefit me, it’s to benefit the community,” Crisostomo said in an interview inside the church.

The move raises the possibility of a second standoff with federal authorities that supporters hope will revive talk of federal immigration reforms. With the defeat of a comprehensive reform bill last year, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement stepped up enforcement and raids. Immigration also emerged as a flash point in the presidential campaign.

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Meanwhile, proponents of stricter enforcement of the nation’s laws said Crisostomo’s sanctuary may embolden activists on both sides of the heated debate, as did Arellano’s.

“It’s old hat. To me, it’s just another situation where she can make demands but nothing is going to happen in terms of legislation,” said Dave Gorak, executive director of the Midwest Coalition to Reduce Immigration.

Crisostomo stepped into the public light shortly after her arrest nearly two years ago. With her legal case pending, Crisostomo had no benefit in hiding and no risk of deportation until the legal process unfolded. She helped organize marches, fasted with Arellano on hunger strikes and offered her own experience as an example of the need for changes to the nation’s immigration laws.

The mother of three left Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states, after a family grocery stand faltered and money for milk and food ran short. She traveled across the Arizona border twice before successfully entering the country. She arrived in Chicago in 2001.

Armed with a fake ID, Crisostomo found work loading pallets at IFCO. She said she saved enough money to send $300 weekly back to her two sons and daughter, who live with her mother. Crisostomo is unmarried.

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A 28-year-old illegal immigrant who has taken refuge in the same Humboldt Park church where Elvira Arellano sought sanctuary from the law for a year will be considered an immigration fugitive if she does not leave the country Monday night will be subject to arrest, federal authorities say.

In defiance of a deportation order, Flor Crisostomo began her “sanctuary” today, confining herself indefinitely inside Adalberto United Methodist Church at 2716 W. Division. She will stay in the church’s second-floor living quarters. She was due to surrender to federal authorities Monday.

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Crisostomo, who is unmarried, thinks she is doing the best thing for her three children, who live in Mexico with her mother, according to friend and church council president Emma Lozano.

“She would not be able to support them in Mexico. When she left, her kids were very skinny children with nothing. Then she started sending money back to them. Now they have food, clothes, books,” Lozano said.

Crisostomo, who has been an immigration activist for more than two years, may soon be joined by other illegal immigrants contemplating taking sanctuary at the church, Lozano said.

“If Ms. Crisóstomo does not comply with the immigration judge’s order by tonight, she will become an immigration fugitive,” U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Gail Montenegro said.

“ICE officers have a sworn duty to enforce the nation’s immigration laws and the authority to arrest those who violate the laws,” Montenegro said. “ICE prioritizes enforcement actions based on implications to national security and public safety. Ms. Crisóstomo will be taken into custody at an appropriate time and place with consideration given to the safety of all involved.”

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