As Imelda Valenzuela Gonzalez headed into the Denver Immigration Court just before 8:30 this morning for a hearing on her deportation case, a crowd of supporters that had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the court building chanted in unison, "Si se puede!"
When the 43-year-old mother of three emerged a short while later, the crowd was still chanting. Valenzuela Gonzalez's daughter shared with them what happened: Her mother's case was continued until December 4, giving her family an eight-month reprieve.
"It's bittersweet," Tania Soto Valenzuela said. "We have more time to continue fighting, but also more time to stress and worry."
Valenzuela Gonzalez came to the United States from Mexico in 1999. A cosmetologist by training, she owns her own beauty salon here. When a new immigration law prevented her from renewing her cosmetology license, she sought help from a notario whose office was near her shop. The notario promised to secure her a work permit, but the deal turned out to be a scam. Valenzuela Gonzalez paid him thousands of dollars, and in turn, he wound up alerting federal immigration officials about her and hundreds of other clients.
Her situation is complicated by a neglect case. Her family explains that it stems from an incident in which Valenzuela Gonzalez's youngest daughter, now eleven, called the police on her son, now fourteen, when they were bickering. Valenzuela Gonzalez wasn't home at the time because she was out running an errand, and she wound up being charged with neglect. She ended up pleading guilty and the court gave her just a year of unsupervised probation. But her eldest daughter says federal immigration authorities are trying to use that incident against Valenzuela Gonzalez in the deportation proceedings.
Today, the family stood together in front of the tall downtown building that houses Denver's immigration court. Dozens of people holding signs with messages such as "This Family Belongs Together" lined the sidewalk as morning traffic streamed by.
"I want to thank you again for being here to support my family. We know there are many other families that are going through the same process and today, this is something that my family is going through," Valenzuela Gonzalez said to the crowd. "I want to be here with my family.... This is where I've raised my family and this is where I want to say."
Afterward, a pastor led the group in a prayer: "Imelda, as you and your beautiful family go upstairs today, know that we are all...praying that you and your family feel wrapped in the love and support that we offer you."
Valenzuela Gonzalez's court hearing was brief. Her attorneys asked to confer privately with Judge David J. Cordova and the federal immigration lawyer in the judge's chambers, and when Cordova returned, he announced that he'd delay the case until December 4.
The reason has to do with a similar case that's currently pending before the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. It's the family's understanding that the appellate case involves an issue that also crops up in Valenzuela Gonzalez's case -- whether federal immigration authorities can hold a previous criminal charge against somebody if that person was never told how pleading guilty could affect a future deportation case.
Both the Colorado Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court have ruled that attorneys must advise undocumented clients of the immigration consequences of a guilty plea. Valenzuela Gonzalez's family is awaiting more details about the specific issues being debated in the pending Tenth Circuit case and how it could impact her case.
After the hearing, Valenzeula Gonzalez's eldest daughter, 23-year-old Soto Valenzuela, a Regis University graduate, addressed the crowd. "The community response has been immense," she said. "Your support has kept me grounded, it has given my mom hope and it has taught my brother and my sister a lesson of love and community."
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More from our Immigration archives: "Scott Gessler: Inside Colorado's charges and prosecutions of voter fraud."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org