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Jeanette Vizguerra, undocumented mother and advocate, given six-month stay of deportation

Immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra, who has been fighting her deportation case for five years, announced a victory today: Federal immigration authorities have granted her a stay of deportation for six months. The mother of four, who is a vocal activist for immigration reform, will be allowed to remain in the United States with her family for another half a year, during which time her vast network of supporters will continue to advocate for her. Vizguerra isn't giving up, either.

"I'm going to continue to fight," she says.

We've documented Vizguerra's story in previous blog posts. Vizguerra and her husband came to the United States from Mexico for safety reasons after he was held up by gunpoint three times while working as a bus driver there. Here, the couple owned a moving and cleaning company. But the income wasn't enough, especially after Vizguerra's husband was diagnosed with cancer. So Vizguerra took on more jobs, sometimes working twenty hours a day.

In 2009, she was pulled over by a police officer as she was leaving one job and on her way to apply for another. The officer's first question to her was, "Are you legal or illegal?"

Vizguerra was arrested and ended up in deportation proceedings. After a series of delays, her case ended in an appeal in 2012. While she was waiting for the appeals process to play out, Vizguerra's mother, whom she had not seen in more than fifteen years, became terminally ill. She decided to visit her in Mexico in September 2012 and was caught by border patrol agents as she was crossing back into the United States in April 2013.

Jeanette Vizguerra, accompanied by an interpreter, talks to the media.
Jeanette Vizguerra, accompanied by an interpreter, talks to the media.
Melanie Asmar

Vizguerra was held in a detention center in Texas until her lawyer convinced officials with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to release her under supervision. But when she went to meet with her supervisor in Colorado on July 24 of last year, Vizguerra was arrested without explanation and put back in detention.

Vizguerra was released on August 8 and given a six-month stay of deportation. And yesterday, just two days before that six-month stay was set to expire, she was given another one. Her attorney, Hans Meyer, says it's a temporary reprieve -- but one that allows Vizguerra to remain here for now, giving him and Vizguerra's other advocates more time to find a solution that keeps her family together for good.

"We'll wait to see how the federal conversation (about immigration reform) unfolds while we look for legal options," Meyer says. "Jeanette's case demonstrates the disconnect between immigration policy and the lives of people.... We should be able to find a policy that reflects people's humanity.... Temporary fixes don't produce meaningful solutions."

Vizguerra has been very vocal about her case, telling her story to both politicians and the media. Julie Gonzales, a longtime advocate who now works as a paralegal for Meyer's law firm, says Vizguerra's case is extraordinary because of "her willingness to give a face to a broken immigration system." Vizguerra has demonstrated the power of combining grassroots advocacy with legal and political pressure, Gonzales says.

But sadly, Gonzales adds, Vizguerra's case is also ordinary. Thousands of immigrants across the United States are fighting the same battle to stay with their families, she says. "These six months are a gift," Gonzales says, "and yet, they're only six months."

"My case is not unique," Vizguerra adds. She vows to use her six months not only to fight her case but to support other immigrants who are facing the same struggles -- something she's been doing for years. "I want to tell everyone, 'Don't be afraid to speak out,'" Vizugerra says. She had the courage to do so, "and I'm here with my family today."

More from our Immigration archive: "Undocumented mom Imelda Valenzuela Gonzalez's court hearing delayed again."

Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at melanie.asmar@westword.com