Jeanette Vizguerra walked down the stone steps of the First Unitarian Society, her grandson in hand and a smile on her face, to meet a crowd of television cameras. It was one of the few times that she’s left the 127-year-old building in the last two months.
Vizguerra has become an icon of the new sanctuary movement, which encourages faith groups and others to shield undocumented immigrants from potential deportation. On Thursday, Vizguerra was named by Time Magazine as one of the country’s most influential people.
“Buenos dias a todos,” Vizguerra said outside the church, blue-frame glasses tucked into a dotted blouse that matched her young daughter’s dress. Continuing in Spanish, she said: “I have so many emotions going through me right now … This has been a 20-year journey.”
She connected her struggle not just to the 11 million undocumented people in the country, but also to the fight “against hate, against homophobia, against the kind of climate this administration has created.”
America Ferrera, the star of the television series “Ugly Betty,” wrote TIME’s entry about Vizguerra. Others on the list include Chance the Rapper, Ivanka Trump and Alicia Keys. Both the magazine and her supporters in Denver lauded Vizguerra not just as a symbol of resistance but for her years of advocacy.
“Jeanette moved to the U.S. to be a janitor, working as an outspoken union organizer and building her own company before becoming an advocate for immigration reform — a bold and risky thing for an undocumented immigrant,” wrote Ferrera, who herself was honored by Time in 2007 and is a noted immigration activist.
Speaking to the media, Vizguerra said that she “never expected anyone to thank me. I do the work that I do because I want families to stay together.”
She urged Americans, including President Donald Trump, to “work with humility for the good of everyone in this country.” She also noted that she had filed taxes from the church. “I can show them to whoever wants to see them, unlike President Trump,” she said. (Her translator, by the way, was Jennifer Piper of the American Friends Service Committee.)
Her attorney, Hans Meyer, said he remains optimistic that she may be spared from deportation. “Right now, it’s at a critical time. We have an international spotlight,” he said.
Vizguerra has lived in the area for nearly 20 years and is a mother of three U.S. citizen children, ages 6, 10 and 12, as well as an adult daughter who is protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Rev. Mike Morran, of First Unitarian, said that he has heard “nothing,” from Immigration and Customs Enforcement since Vizguerra took sanctuary.
“This is government agency that is hostile to questions, hostile to transparency, hostile to accountability,” he said, adding that undocumented immigrants have been placed in an “impossible situation.”
The church is staffed 24 hours a day and will not allow ICE to enter without a warrant, he said. Meyer believes the agency will “respect sanctuary.”
Vizguerra took sanctuary at First Unitarian Society in February for fear that she would be deported if she returned for her regular check-in with authorities. She subsequently was denied her stay. Her supporters say an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent pursued a “vendetta” against her.
Immigration issues in Denver:
Earlier this month, Aurora resident and mother of four Maria de Jesus Jimenez-Sanchez was detained and may be deported, reflecting new federal priorities.
We analyzed why Denver has a relatively high undocumented population and took you to protests at the private GEO detention facility in Aurora. Meanwhile, Erica has tracked federal efforts to name-and-shame “sanctuary” cities, which is a big deal for Denver and Aurora.
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