By Miriam Mimi Madrid
Jeanette Vizguerra decided not to attend a scheduled meeting with Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in Centennial, Colo., on Feb. 15, 2017 in fear of deportation and separation from her family.
About 100 demonstrators gathered outside the Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Offices at 12445 E. Caley Avenue during the time Vizguerra was located at the First Unitarian Society of Denver to seek sanctuary. Reverend Anne Dunlap, United Church of Christ community minister for racial justice and solidarity, said that when she and Vizguerra’s lawyers went into the ICE office, they were met with armed officials who were ready to arrest Vizguerra. The ICE Denver Field office denied Vizguerra and her lawyer’s request for another Stay of Removal.
Hans Meyer, the lawyer overseeing her case for a decade listed the wrongs that came from this decision calling the Trump Administration and ICE the bad actors. “Bullying and threatening and terrorizing a woman and a mother, and her children and community is wrong. In the face of those things, the only option for Jeanette Vizguerra is sanctuary.” said Meyer.
In 2014, approximately 200,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Colorado and paid more that $144 million in state and local taxes according to The Pew Research Center. It is estimated that an additional $44 million in taxes would return to the state if there were a process to grant undocumented immigrants in Colorado a legal stay.
Vizguerra addressed local and national news outlets with heavy emotion regarding her case inside the church where she is seeking refuge. Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee served as her interpreter. “I did not make this decision lightly. I had the intuition that if I had arrived to that place [ICE] I would have not made it out.,” Vizguerra said.
Vizguerra pointed to President Donald Trump’s executive orders as an attack not just on herself but on other families, the larger immigrant community, dissenting legislative officials, and journalists.
“I’m filled with emotions, rage, pain and sadness but I know my struggle does not end here. I’ve been fighting for eight long years and will not give up,” she said. Vizguerra looked back to her children as she said that they were her main motivation for seeking legal stay in the country.
Pro-immigrant activists turned in her Request to Stay application to the ICE office headquarters in Washington D.C. for review.
Vizguerra had been granted five Stays of Removal by ICE in the past eight years and currently has a pending U-Visa application available for survivors of violence that has lasted for 13 months. She is mother to a 26-year-old daughter who is a DREAMer (undocumented children who were granted stay through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals-DACA under the Obama Administration) and has three underage children who are U.S. citizens. Vizguerra is the head of household of her family.
Vizguerra, her children, and her attorney made the decision to enter sanctuary in light of other undocumented mothers and young people experiencing deportation when checking in with ICE offices. Vizguerra said that she saw herself as a reflection of Guadalupe García de Rayos also a Mexican mother who was deported in Arizona just a week ago. García de Rayos had routinely checked in with ICE officials since 2008. Vizguerra sees her daughter in the same reflection of Daniel Ramirez Medina, a 23-year old DREAMer who was granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Medina was arrested and detained in Seattle on Feb. 14, 2017.
These latest detentions and deportations come after President Trump’s Executive Order titled Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. The Pew Research Center estimates 11.1 million undocumented immigrants currently reside in the U.S. In a recent study conducted by The Pew Research Center about 72% of the public says that it is important to allow undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to remain in the country and apply for legal status. In the same report six-in-ten people feel it is very or somewhat important for undocumented immigrants to have the opportunity to stay legally.
Several city officials from Denver, Boulder and Aurora have made it clear that they will not require police to enforce federal immigration laws. The Trump administration has threatened to pull federal funding from any cities who are providing sanctuary for immigrants. In 2015, the three Colorado cities listed above who are sensitive to immigrants’ safety received about $195.5 million in federal funds in total. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock told The Denver Post earlier this year that Denver is “not a sanctuary city,” referring to the lack of policy which defines a sanctuary city.
While Vizguerra has actively organized for two decades around the safety and security of immigrant families, her activism has reached outside of immigrant rights. She’s publically supported the rights and safety for Muslims, Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and Queer individuals, young people and survivors of police brutality. At today’s press conference, she vowed to continue the fight for justice for all both locally and nationally.
Meyer said that the most important piece moving forward is not the legal steps but instead knowing what Vizguerra and her family need to demand more accountability in this process. “Our community has rendered its verdict. Jeanette Vizguerra does not just deserve a stay, she deserves to stay.” he said.
“[Trump] doesn’t care what my children are feeling, wondering how long I’ll have to live in this church. Even though I’m filled with love and protection from these people it’s not the same as being home with my children,” Vizguerra said.
Dunlap said Vizguerra taught her supporters the power of community and vowed to continue fighting to keep her family together. Under sanctuary Vizguerra will not be able to leave the church without risking detention and deportation. Vizguerra extended an invitation for all to come share breakfast and other meals with her and her family at the church on 1400 Lafayette St. in Denver, Colorado.