Update: Jeanette Vizguerra walks free Friday morning to chants of “If we fight, we win.”
Fearing that she would be detained and deported at a regular check-in with immigration authorities, Jeanette Vizguerra has been living first in Denver’s First Unitarian Society and then in First Baptist Church since Feb. 15, 2017.
On Thursday, her attorney, Hans Meyer, said Vizguerra has been granted a stay of deportation through at least March 2019. That means she can walk out of the church without fear and resume her old life.
It’s not clear what led Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to change their mind about Vizguerra, but her case has been incredibly high profile. Last month, TIME magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the country.
Vizguerra, a native of Mexico and the mother of three U.S. citizen children, as well as an older daughter who has protected status through the DACA program, has been fighting deportation since 2009. She was caught driving on false documents. She’s now eligible for something called a U-Visa, which is granted to victims and witnesses to crimes who are cooperating with prosecutors. Getting a U-Visa would allow her to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship, but there is a long backlog.
ICE had repeatedly approved stays of deportation for Vizguerra, but in February, because Vizguerra believed she was about to be detained, she skipped her appointment and instead took sanctuary at First Unitarian Society of Denver. ICE then issued a deportation order.
“As a mother of three, a community advocate, and a survivor of crime with a pending application for U-Visa status, Jeanette Vizguerra has demonstrated unimaginable courage to fight for her family, for basic due process of law and for fundamental fairness in our immigration system,” Meyer said in a statement. “Jeanette is a living example of the true American values of courage, integrity and perseverance. I am proud to stand alongside her as we work to secure fairness and humanity in both her U visa immigration case as well as our nation’s immigration laws.”
In addition to the U-Visa, Rep. Jared Polis of Boulder, as well as U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, have sponsored private bills to grant her legal status. ICE used to have a policy of issuing stays for people with pending private bills, but the agency recently announced it had changed that policy. However, the bills were filed earlier — in January in the case of Polis’ bill and in March in the case of Bennet’s bill. Polis has run bills for Vizguerra in past years as well.
Polis said Vizguerra should not have had to take such drastic actions in the first place, and he expressed concern for others in her situation.
“After living 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,” he said in a statement. “Nevertheless, ICE has now decided to formally dismantle the longstanding agreement with Congress that allowed me to run legislation to help Jeanette for the past several years. While I am grateful that Jeanette will be afforded more time in the U.S. and the due process she deserves, I am concerned for the countless families that will continue to be torn apart by ICE’s new policy and alarmed by the blatant disregard for our legislative process.”
Last month, an Aurora mother of four was deported after checking in with ICE under what U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman’s office said was a new and more aggressive policy. And Arturo Garcia, another well-known immigrant who previously took sanctuary, was picked up at his workplace and detained, though he was released soon after. Garcia has also been issued a stay of deportation.
Bennet said these cases don’t represent the nation’s immigration enforcement priorities.
“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,” he said.
This story has been updated to reflect that Jeanette Vizguerra lived in two churches during her sanctuary stay.