Fearing Deportation, Jeanette Vizguerra Re-enters Sanctuary in Denver

Fearing Deportation, Jeanette Vizguerra Re-enters Sanctuary in Denver
Jake Holschuh
After living freely for nearly two years, Jeanette Vizguerra will once again take up temporary shelter at a Denver church to avoid deportation.

Vizguerra will stay in the First Unitarian Society in Capitol Hill, the same church in which the activist and mother of four spent 86 days in 2017 before being granted an almost two-year deportation stay by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. But that stay ended today, March 15, and Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, fears that she will be deported unless she remains in sanctuary.

Vizguerra became famous for her activism for immigrant rights and her time spent in sanctuary in the church. TIME named her one of the 100 most influential people in 2017, putting her in the same company as the pope and Colin Kaepernick. Later that year, Vizguerra emerged from the church after ICE granted the stay of deportation.

Recognizing that Vizguerra's time in the U.S. is possibly running out, lawyers from Novo Legal Group in Denver have filed a lawsuit on her behalf in Colorado District Court on Thursday, March 14, requesting that the deportation order against Vizguerra be removed and that she be allowed to present her case for staying in the U.S. to a judge. Vizguerra's application for a U Visa, which is reserved for people who have been victims of crimes, is still pending.

Vizguerra has been in the cross-hairs of ICE for a decade. In 2009, she was pulled over on a routine traffic stop, which led to her first arrest. The charges were related to the fact that Vizguerra possessed the Social Security number of another person and had unlawfully entered the U.S. in 1997.

Shortly after arriving in the U.S., she began working as a custodian and got involved in labor organizing. Vizguerra, who had a child in Mexico, had three more children while living in the U.S.

In the years following her 2009 arrest, a judge ordered that Vizguerra be deported. But she chose a voluntary deportation to Mexico in 2013, meaning that a deportation order was never entered into her immigration file, according to the lawsuit filed on her behalf.

Vizguerra left the U.S. but returned again unlawfully in 2013, when she was apprehended by ICE and moved into deportation proceedings because the federal agency assumed she had a deportation order in her file.

But Vizguerra's lawyers contend that because Vizguerra left voluntarily, ICE didn't have the legal authority to put her into deportation proceedings without due process.

While Vizguerra was taking shelter in 2017, Colorado lawmakers, including Michael Bennet and Jared Polis, introduced private bills in Congress to protect her from deportation. While the bills didn't pass, ICE granted Vizguerra the almost two-year deportation stay. However, under the Trump administration, ICE no longer grants stays in response to private bills.

Activists held a protest outside of ICE headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday on behalf of Vizguerra, who will speak to local media at the Unitarian church at noon today.
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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.