Immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra has been fighting for years to stay in the United States. The mother of four ended up in deportation proceedings after she was pulled over in 2009 for driving with expired tags. Vizguerra was arrested and put in an immigration detention center. After being released, she fought her case in court; when she lost, she filed an appeal.
But now, Vizguerra is back in the detention center -- and her family and the advocates who care for her are worried she may lose her fight to remain here.
"We feel there's no reason to deport Jeannette and destroy this family that is trying to survive," says community organizer Judith Marquez.
Safety was the reason that Vizguerra and her family -- which now includes three citizen-children ages nine, seven and two -- came to the United States from Mexico. According to a documentary in which Vizguerra tells her story, her husband was held up by gunpoint three times while working as a bus driver in Mexico.
Here, the couple owned a moving and cleaning company. But the income wasn't enough, especially since Vizguerra's husband was diagnosed with cancer and the family had medical bills to pay. So Vizguerra took on more jobs, sometimes working twenty hours a day. It was when she was leaving one job and on her way to apply for another that she was pulled over. The officer's first question to her was, "Are you legal or illegal?"
Vizguerra fought her deportation case, which included a series of delays and ended in an appeal in 2012. She was told the appellate process could take up to two years. While she was waiting, Vizguerra's mother, whom she had not seen in more than fifteen years, became terminally ill, says Marquez. Vizguerra decided to visit her in Mexico in September 2012. She was caught by border patrol agents as she was crossing back into the United States this past April.
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Vizguerra was held in a detention center in El Paso, Texas until her lawyer convinced officials with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, to release her under supervision. But once she returned to Colorado and went to meet with the officer who was supervising her on July 24, an appointment Marquez attended with her, Vizguerra was arrested without explanation and put back in detention.
Thankfully, Marquez says, Vizguerra's children were waiting outside and did not see their mother arrested. But Marquez says it's still traumatizing for them. "They went with their mom and they left without their mom," she says.
Vizguerra has been very active within the immigrant and workers' rights movements, and she has many supporters. They've mobilized in the days since Vizguerra was taken into custody, and Marquez reports that Vizguerra's lawyer has filed for a stay of deportation, which would allow Vizguerra more time to prepare for her departure before being deported. To help ensure it's granted, advocates say they've gathered letters of support from U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Jared Polis.
"They were kind and understanding," says Kelly Dignan, a Unitarian Universalist pastor who was among those who went to Bennet's office on Monday to request the letter. "I really have much gratitude for what they've done."
But Marquez says that despite supporters' best efforts, Vizguerra may not have much time. "They've already asked for her family to bring a suitcase," Marquez says. "That's a really bad sign.... Once you have your bag, you can be deported anytime."
Marquez and others are asking supporters to sign a petition urging ICE to grant Vizguerra's request for a stay of deportation.
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"We're hoping they will approve the stay this week," Marquez says. "But we're not sure. As early as tomorrow, she might be put on a list to be deported. That's why we've been mobilizing and doing these actions. For us, time is running out and we really want her to stay here -- for her children, especially."
More from our Immigration archive: "Clarisa Mesta allowed to stay in the U.S. after speaking out about her deportation case."Follow me on Twitter @MelanieAsmar or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org