Sanctuary journey ends

Two women took refuge in a church.

Both were undocumented.

Elvira Arellano lived in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood for almost a year.

When she left the church to go speak in California, she was arrested by U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement officials and deported back to Mexico.


Flor Crisostomo photo by Cristina Aguirre

And then Flor Crisostomo took her place. She lived in the church almost two years.

She left this week. Nobody knows where she went, or at least they won't say. Maybe for fear that immigration officials will soon pick her up and deport her back to Mexico too.

These women took sanctuary in a church to avoid deportation and to call attention to the movement to legalize the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Did their actions matter?

I think they did. They put a human face on the undocumented who often are too fearful to speak in public about their plight.

They both are single mothers who wanted to work to provide a better life for their children.

I've been in the small apartment above the church they called home. A television, telephone and a computer were the main connections to the outside world. And on Sundays or some weeknights they would interact with the attendees of the church.

I couldn't imagine being cooped up in a such a confined space for months on end. They made that sacrifice to call attention to the debate over immigration reform.

But not everybody agreed with their tactics. Even some leaders within the immigrant rights community thought it was a bad publicity stunt.

But Arellano was very effective in getting out her message in the media.

She was interviewed in local, national and international media. Now Arellano is continuing her activism from Mexico. She ran for Congress in Mexico but lost.  

"What mother wouldn't do the best she could for her son?" Arellano told me in one of several interviews I had with her while she lived above the church.

She argued from the beginning that she took sanctuary so to stay with her son, Saul, a U.S. citizen, so he could get an education and live in the United States. Hers is a common story of an undocumented parent with a U.S. citizen child. She was criticized for keeping her son with her in sanctuary. While living there he left the church to go to school and visit friends.

What lengths would you go to in order to help your children?

This is what drives many immigrants to come here, and sometimes they even leave their children behind so they can send money to them back home.

Crisostomo is the mother of three children who live in Mexico.

She followed in Arellano's footsteps. She got some media attention at first but it didn't last.
Crisostomo said in a statement published in Hoy, a Spanish-language newspaper in Chicago, that her sanctuary "started to lose political effectiveness in terms of the immigration movement. I came to the decision to leave sanctuary to start what will be the next stage of my activism and to serve this fight more effectively in the next days, months and years."

Their sanctuary journey has ended. It was effective in generating some headlines and calling attention to the issue of immigration reform.

There are more Elviras and Flors out there whose stories have not been told. The simple sacrifices of these women who became symbols in the immigration debate should not be diminished.

They have left the church but their cause remains.


Leave a comment
  • ILLEGAL! GET IT??? ILLEGAL. Stop the illegals from coming in. It is hogwash that we have to just sit back and let it happen when there is a system in place to become LEGAL. We allow our homeless and mentally ill no solace from the churches (they are ostracized in many places and by many denominations) but illegal? that's ok. Even though the mentally ill cannot help it. Even though the homeless are thus through no fault of their own. Send these women and their children back. Let us take care of those who are here legally, and when we take care of those problems, THEN we can worry about those who break the laws.

  • In reply to jackiesosad:

    Whatever happened to equal opportunity for all people? If it wasn't for all of the immigrants who pick your fruits and vegeatbles you wouldn't be eating breakfast or dinner. Who else works for low wages? Nobody. Especially not your race. How would you like it if you were seperated from your parents? These people haven't done one crime.

  • In reply to jackiesosad:

    Alex people like you are the PROBLEM. Yes they have committed a crime. They also are the reason the wages are so very low in the ag. business. The equal opportunity should be for all legal residents of this country, not the crimminals that come here and milk all they possibly can off the American taxpayer. That means you to Alex. Those veg. and fruits would still make it to everyones table for consumption without the crimminal alien being in this country. Time law enforcement, starts enforceing all the laws of the land. Enough of these sanctuary cities. Enough of the attitudes like yours Alex, this is a country made up of laws and they should ALL be enforced.

Leave a comment