Immigrant-Rights Activists Say Jared Polis Has Turned His Back on Them

Immigrant-Rights Activists Say Jared Polis Has Turned His Back on Them
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Jeanette Vizguerra wasn't able to attend a rally outside the Capitol on Monday, May 13. But the immigrant-rights activist currently living in sanctuary made sure that someone read her words out loud. And they weren't kind to Governor Jared Polis.

"I do not know you anymore," she wrote.

Vizguerra has been in the crosshairs of the immigration system for a decade, ever since the Mexican national and mother of four was pulled over during a routine traffic stop. Vizguerra, also a labor organizer, was arrested on charges related to using someone else's Social Security number and entering the U.S. unlawfully in 1997.

When Vizguerra's deportation appeared imminent in 2017, she took sanctuary in the First Unitarian Church in Capitol Hill. That year, TIME magazine included her in its list of the world's 100 most influential people.

In 2017, Polis visited Vizguerra while she was seeking sanctuary at the church. During his visit, he referred to the Denver ICE field office director as a "rogue" employee and called for a stay of Vizguerra's deportation. That same year, Polis even introduced a private bill in Congress so that Vizguerra would be granted a stay. The bill didn't pass, but ICE granted Vizguerra a two-year stay, which just came to an end. Vizguerra re-entered sanctuary in March.

The thirty or so immigrant-rights activists who gathered at the Capitol for the rally, organized by the American Friends Service Committee, said that since becoming governor, Polis has turned his back on them. In March, the governor said in a Colorado Public Radio interview that he would not limit local law enforcement agency cooperation with ICE.

"No matter what we think of the laws federally, ICE is absolutely a legitimate law enforcement agency. There’s no question [that] I disagree with the way that, administratively, President Trump’s appointees are using ICE on their priorities, and I disagree with the federal immigration laws, but they are a law enforcement agency," Polis said.

The governor's stance made Colorado state legislators alter House Bill 1124, stripping language that would have prohibited local law enforcement funding to go toward enforcing civil immigration law.

Although biting in their criticism, the activists say they are still holding out hope that Polis will again become their ally.

"We are here today to call on him to meet with our organizations and to fully understand how the rhetoric he's using is harmful," said AFSC's Jennifer Piper at the rally. "It's not only harmful to immigrants, but to the entire Colorado community. And that it takes us backward. And we know that he wants to move forward. And we want him to move forward with us."

Colorado is suing the federal government after it withheld grant money because some local law enforcement agencies are unwilling to cooperate with ICE. Vizguerra is suing ICE so she can be granted another deportation stay. 
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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.