When Jeanette Vizguerra took sanctuary in the basement of the First Unitarian Society in mid-February, the undocumented mother of four from Denver became one of the faces of resistance to President Donald Trump and his platform of increased immigration enforcement.
Vizguerra’s story has been carried by publications across the globe, and her notoriety only increased in April when she was named one of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world.
Vizguerra has just been granted a stay of removal by immigration officials that will protect her from deportation through at least March 15 of 2019, her attorney Hans Meyer has announced. She is joined by Arturo Hernandez Garcia, who also has had a stay of deportation approved.
Vizguerra took up sanctuary after a previous stay of her removal expired. The activist has been fighting her deportation since 2009, when she became known to immigration enforcement after being pulled over by police and not having a driver’s license or vehicle insurance.
Since that time, Vizguerra has been waiting on an application for a special “U Visa” that would allow her to remain in the United States, where three of her children are citizens and her eldest daughter is a DACA recipient.
Today, May 12, Vizguerra left sanctuary for the first time since February 15. Surrounded by family and friends and joyous shouts of “Si se puede!,” she and Hernandez Garcia both participated in a press conference on the grounds of the state capitol building.
“It's been three very difficult months,” Vizguerra said on Friday morning. “Yesterday I didn't know if I should laugh or cry. And I asked that my children come to me. I needed to celebrate the news with them. They are the reason that I fight. At the same time I was feeling happy, I was also sad because of my friend [Ingrid Encalada Latorre] who is in another church. While I am celebrating, she also wants to get out [of sanctuary]…I will continue fighting for her as well...I have always said that my struggle is their struggle, and their struggle is my struggle. We are a community, and it doesn't matter what race, color or country, their pain is my pain, and my struggle and fight will continue.”
At the same press conference, Meyer told reporters that he received a call on Thursday from the acting ICE field office director in Colorado with the news that ICE's national headquarters had granted Vizguerra's stay of removal until at least March 15, 2019.
“It's absolutely the right decision,” Meyer said. “It allows Jeanette Vizguerra the fairness and due process she deserves to get her U Visa case heard.
“I'm proud to be part of her case,” he added. “I'm humbled to be with this community as it fights to write the next chapter in this country's civil rights movement...but the story doesn't end here. Jeanette's case still needs a lot of work, time and energy. We need to reform our immigration laws and create a pathway for hardworking families who live with us and contribute to our community. But today, we send a message to the world: Jeanette belongs here.”
After Hernandez Garcia and his lawyer, Laura Lichter, addressed reporters, Meyer and Lichter answered questions as to why ICE may have granted the stays of removal.
Lichter credited private bills introduced in Washington, D.C., by Colorado representatives, including Senator Michael Bennet and Congressmen Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, on behalf of Hernandez Garcia and Vizguerra. But Lichter also characterized the stays as “lucky,” because the private bills were introduced in Washington before ICE sent a letter to Congress on May 5 announcing that, going forward, it will not allow private bills to delay its deportation practices.
“Now those [cases] that come after don't have the same advantage [anymore],” explained Lichter.
Meyer also acknowledged that the high-profile nature of Vizguerra and Hernandez Garcia's cases probably helped.
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“I don't think we would have this decision without the hard work of a community that organized for almost a decade to build community power and voice. I think it was critical for us to raise the profile of Jeanette Vizguerra and Arturo Hernandez Garcia and introduce private legislation,” he said. “In the best case scenario, we should have Donald Trump, who always likes to be around 'the best people,' sit down with one of [Time's] 100 most influential people on the planet, Jeanette Vizguerra, at dinner, and maybe they should figure out together what the future of immigration law looks like in this country, because then we might actually get somewhere.”
Prior to Friday morning's conference, Senator Michael Bennet and Congressman Jared Polis had released statements about Vizguerra and Hernandez Garcia.
Senator Bennet wrote, "I am pleased to hear that Jeanette and Arturo have been granted temporary stays.... These Coloradans have lived in our state for years, contributed to our economy, and should never have been targets for deportation in the first place."
Added Polis: “After [Vizguerra lived] in a church basement for months, ICE has finally decided to do what they should have done in the first place and given her a new stay of removal while Congress considers legislation specific to her case.”