Jeanette Vizguerra, who has lived in Colorado for more than fourteen years, is the mother of three citizen children, owns a small business and is very involved in her community. She also lives in this country illegally and faces her final deportation court date on Monday at 8:30 a.m. But before that happens, Rights for All People (RAP), an organization dedicated to providing equality and justice for immigrants, will hold a protest, saying it would be cruel to deport a productive citizen whose family relies on her. The protest will take place on Monday at 7:30 a.m. outside Denver's Federal Courthouse.
Vizguerra, who was born in Mexico, owns a moving and cleaning company with her husband, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2000. The couple was able to battle the cancer into remission with radiation and chemotherapy and spent about $25,000 on treatment without public assistance. When the cancer resurfaced three years ago, Vizguerra took on another job to support her husband.
"The big concern for the family is she's been part of the income," says Liz Hamel, a Rights for All People organizer who has worked with Vizguerra for ten years. "It really would be devastating to not only the emotional security of the family, but you also have the economic devastation on the family and children that don't have their mother anymore."
Vizguerra's children are ages seven, five and three months. Jeanette and her husband will face a heart-wrenching decision if she is deported.
"The family is preparing for that reality," says Hamel. "Because the children are citizens of the United States and safety issues in Mexico, she and her husband feel they would be safer and have better opportunities here. The family would be separated, including a three-month-old baby. This is not just about one person, it's about an entire family that's getting separated."
It would also cause a woman to separate from an Aurora community she has contributed to greatly. Vizguerra worked with SEIU Local 105, a labor union, where she was an organizer advocating for equal wages and fighting against sexual harassment. Through RAP she met with elected officials, police officers and city council members. She also trained other leaders for the organization. Vizguerra participated in the Aurora Neighborhood Watch Program and volunteered at her children's schools.
"Jeanette has contributed so much to Colorado, her community and this country," says Hamel. "She's an American. We're calling to stop not only the deportation of Jeanette and others like her who are not a threat to society by any means, but are giving back to society, paying taxes and paying into our public system, but we're also calling for a comprehensive reform of our immigration system."
When Vizguerra was pulled over two years ago for expired tags, the first question the police officer asked, according to Hamel, was, 'Are you legal or illegal?' She was arrested for not having a driver's license and spent time in jail before being transferred to an immigration detention center. For a period of forty days, the only time she could see her children was while she was wearing handcuffs. She was released on an immigration bond and has been working with an immigration lawyer since.
For RAP, Vizguerra's case goes beyond her and her family. While an otherwise upstanding citizen, she is an illegal immigrant.
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"Our viewpoint is that the laws themselves are broken," says Hamel. "People from bipartisan leadership know that our immigration system is broken. Even for people who follow all the rules and try to go through the legal ways to become a citizen here in the U.S., it can take up to twenty or more years. We have a huge backlog and laws that have not been reformed in over twenty years. For us, we feel that immigrants are Americans.
"We hope to involve people who aren't immigrants who deeply care about this issue," she continues. "So many people don't know that there is a detention center here in Aurora. There are people who don't have a violent criminal history that are being deported right now. So we really want to challenge those stereotypes and provide the community view of what immigration is. We hope to stand with Jeanette, but also give light to other issues. She wants to do this because she wants to make a difference for other people. She's one of the most selfless people I know, so I want to show her courage in doing this and hope that other people can see what kind of person she is and what kind of people this is affecting."
Rights for All People is coordinating with Colorado Progressive Coalition, Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, Coloradans for Immigrant Rights and Interfaith Worker Justice to provide speakers, prayer and compelling visuals before Vizguerra's hearing.