Coloradans in Sanctuary Hoping New Administration Brings Relief

Jeanette Vizguerra has been in sanctuary at a Denver church for two years.
Jeanette Vizguerra has been in sanctuary at a Denver church for two years. Jake Holschuh
Most religious institutions across Colorado have been largely empty for the past ten months, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down in-person services. But about a half-dozen Colorado churches have never been vacant.

That’s because they’re providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, some of whom have families with them.

“For those of us who are currently in sanctuary, we are not only trying to fight our deportation cases, but also take care of our families,” explains Jeanette Vizguerra, a 48-year-old Mexican national who made TIME’s 100 Most Influential People list in 2017 for her immigration advocacy. She’s lived in the First Unitarian Society Church in Capitol Hill for two years, and says she’s “feeling very tired and exhausted from doing activism for 24 years.”

Some of those who’ve sought sanctuary in Colorado stay out of the limelight, opting to litigate their legal cases quietly, for fear that publicity might make them a target of ICE. Others, like Vizguerra and Ingrid Encalada LaTorre, the focus of this week's cover story, remain vocal throughout much of their stay. Rosa Sabido, for example, who has lived at the Mancos United Methodist Church in Mancos since 2017, urges elected officials to reform immigration policy from her website, Rosa Belongs Here.

Others who’ve lived in sanctuary have less reason to be optimistic — and vocal. Arturo Hernandez Garcia, an undocumented immigrant who’d been living in sanctuary in a Denver church, was the subject of a 2017 Westword cover story. “Arturo’s situation is not public anymore,” says Katie Larson, who’s been serving as Encalada LaTorre’s main advocate recently. “For his safety, we don’t have communication with him.”

And Araceli Velasquez, who previously took sanctuary in the building shared by Park Hill United Methodist Church and Temple Micah, is now back in El Salvador; immigrant-rights advocates are unable to explain exactly why she returned to her home country.

Vizguerra knows the changes in Washington, D.C., will be critical for all of those in sanctuary. “Biden alone is not going to be able to make all the changes that are needed. Congress will have to push something, too,” she says. “And there will be lots of obstacles, especially among Republicans.”

Still, she remains hopeful. “I know the changes that are coming are important, and they might not help my case, but will be helpful to the immigrant community,” Vizguerra says. “In regards to my case, I just really need to be patient. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I am going to win.”
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.