Day Without Immigrants: Jeanette Vizguerra's Sanctuary Story Goes National

Jeanette Vizguerra meeting the media in 2014.
Jeanette Vizguerra meeting the media in 2014. Melanie Asmar
Jeanette Vizguerra is wellknown to Westword readers as a symbol of the fight for immigrant rights thanks to her years-long struggles to stay in this country with her four children; three of them are U.S. citizens, while the fourth is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Now, Vizguerra is taking on the same role nationally. Media outlets ranging from Rachel Maddow's MSNBC program to National Public Radio are covering her entry into sanctuary at Denver's First Unitarian Church in an effort to avoid deportation.

Here's background on Vizguerra as originally reported by Melanie Asmar, a longtime Westword staffer and current contributor.

Vizguerra and her husband came to the United States from Mexico for safety reasons after he was held up at 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?"

She was arrested and ended up in deportation proceedings. After a series of delays, her case ended in an appeal in 2012.

click to enlarge Vizguerra, center left in black, at a 2013 event celebrating her release from ICE custody. - MELANIE ASMAR
Vizguerra, center left in black, at a 2013 event celebrating her release from ICE custody.
Melanie Asmar
While Vizguerra was waiting for the appeals process to play out, her 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. She 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, 2013, Vizguerra was arrested without explanation and put back in detention.

The following August 8, Vizguerra was released and given a six-month stay of deportation, and another one followed the next year. Since then, her status has been tenuous. She currently has a pending application for a U-visa that would allow her to remain in the U.S., but with reports of immigration crackdowns taking place across the country during the early days of the Trump administration, she has now taken refuge at First Unitarian, the church that also provided sanctuary for Arturo Armando Hernandez Garcia, another undocumented immigrant whose story was told in this space.

Since Vizguerra went into sanctuary, she has gotten support from a number of prominent Colorado politicians, including Senator Michael Bennet.

"Jeanette has been pursuing a legal avenue to remain in America for several years," Bennet said in a statement. "Since 2011, our office has worked with her to navigate our immigration system in order to keep her family together. The fear she expressed today embodies what immigrants across the country are feeling. This is yet another reminder that our immigration system should line up with our national priorities."

click to enlarge Vizguerra speaking at a 2013 rally while holding one of her children. - MELANIE ASMAR
Vizguerra speaking at a 2013 rally while holding one of her children.
Melanie Asmar
Also weighing in was Representative Jared Polis. His statement reads: "The Trump administration’s actions have created fear throughout the immigrant community, forcing productive members of our cities and towns to retreat into sanctuary in order to remain united with their families. It is a shame that Jeanette, a victim of a crime herself, is being re-victimized by our failed immigration system and deceptive enforcement priorities. Like Jeanette, I am alarmed by the rogue ICE activity that is taking place throughout the country. We have heard countless stories of recent raids that have taken place in various states, terrorizing the immigrant communities in which they are conducted. Destroying families and detaining productive members of our communities runs counter to our values as Americans."

Hans Meyer, principal of the Meyer Law Office and Vizguerra's longtime attorney, has similarly harsh words for the current president. "By denying Jeanette's stay of removal, ICE made it abundantly clear that they had no intention of respecting longstanding guidelines calling for specific action when processing stay of removal applications for individuals with pending U-visa claims," Meyer notes in his own statement. "The Trump administration is bullying a victim of crime and a mother of four. Jeanette’s case is Exhibit A in the brutality of Trump’s immigration enforcement plans, plain and simple.”

Meyer adds, "We offer our thanks to the good people at the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, American Friends Service Committee, elected officials who have spoken out in support of her case, and all of Jeanette’s loved ones and friends. Most importantly, we extend our deepest gratitude to Jeanette Vizguerra herself. It is an honor to work for justice alongside you."

And now, that effort is earning attention on a much wider scale.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts