On Tuesday, Flor Crisostomo spoke at Grand Rapids’ Aquinas College on immigration, its underlying causes, and immigration reform. Crisostomo–an indigenous Zapoteca–has been in the United States since 2000 after emigrating from Oaxaca. Since April of 2006 when agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raided her place of employment, Crisostomo has been working with Centro Sin Fronteras in the Chicago area. She is currently on tour with the Mexico Solidarity Network.
Crisostomo told the audience of students and community members that immigrants are in the United States only by necessity. Many–herself included–have children in Mexico or Central America and would prefer to be with them. However, they have made the decision to come to the United States rather than watch their children die of hunger. Crisostomo explained that it has been “painful” not to be able to watch her children grow. The current wave of immigration has been driven by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its destruction of indigenous peoples’ livelihoods. Crisostomo said that these trade agreements have been made without any thought of their human impacts, with the authors only looking at the potential profits and not their effects on families.
Crisostomo talked about immigration reform and current organizing efforts designed to address the issue. She traced current efforts for immigration reform to the 1980s and the call for general amnesty, but explained that particularly since 9/11, the effort has faced a significant backlash. Underlying the debate has been a “great cloud” of racism that has sought to scapegoat immigrants, with Crisostomo referring to the Minutemen and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as a legacy of racist immigration policies including Operation Wetback and the Repatriation Act. She reminded the audience that immigrants have made significant contributions to society while most have fulfilled the obligations–including working honestly, paying taxes, and obeying laws–of citizenship. Unlike the portrayal of immigrants by opponents of immigration, who describe immigrants as seeking to live off the government and wanting to change the traditions of the United States, Crisostomo said that most immigrants simply want to send a little bit of what was “snatched” from them by international trade agreements back to their families.
She said that the current debate over immigration reform has been helped by recent mass mobilizations and asserted that reunification of families should be at the forefront of reform efforts. Enforcement-only measures and ICE raids have had the effect of deporting parents almost daily, especially because so many families live in mixed-status homes. Crisostomo said that unfortunately the current debate has emphasized the political aspects rather than the human aspects. Moreover, she said that the Democrats promised to “resolve” the immigration issue if they won the Congress and Senate but they have not done so thus far, nor have most of the Democratic frontrunners offered plans on immigration.