The hardest thing for Jeanette Vizguerra about spending 86 days in church sanctuary was being away from her children at night. And the hardest thing now that she’s out is knowing that so many other people do not have the reprieve that she received on Thursday.
Surrounded by supporters chanting “¡Si luchamos, ganamos!” (If we fight, we win) and “¡Sí se pudo!” (Yes, she could — the past tense of, “Sí se puede!”), Vizguerra marched out of First Baptist Church in downtown Denver Friday morning a free woman — at least until March 15, 2019.
On the grounds of the capitol, she was joined by Arturo Hernandez Garcia, who also knows the experience of spending months in sanctuary and who also was granted a two-year stay of deportation.
“I’m happy for myself, but I’m sad for my friend in another church,” Vizguerra told a crowd of reporters. “She would also like to get out. … How can I stop my struggle?”
Vizguerra called on Democrats and Republicans to work together to pass immigration reform that will keep families together, and she called on Mayor Michael Hancock and Gov. John Hickenlooper to enact sanctuary policies that would protect unauthorized immigrants living in Colorado.
Vizguerra, who was recently named one of TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people, is perhaps the best known undocumented immigrant in Colorado, and she has been a face of the sanctuary movement in recent months.
A mother of four children, three of whom are U.S. citizens and the oldest of whom is eligible for protection under the DACA program, Vizguerra has lived in the U.S. for some two decades. And she had been fighting deportation for eight. She most recently entered sanctuary instead of going to a scheduled check-in with ICE because she believed she would be detained and deported. ICE then ordered her removed.
She had been living in First Unitarian Society of Denver and then in First Baptist to avoid deportation.
Vizguerra is eligible for a U-Visa, a special permit available to those who are victims or witnesses of crimes and who are cooperating with prosecutors, but there is a long backlog. U.S. Rep. Jared Polis and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet both have introduced private bills to grant Vizguerra legal status.
Now she can leave — and enjoy Mother’s Day in her home — and keep fighting her case.
Hans Meyer, Vizguerra’s attorney, said it’s not totally clear why she or Garcia received a stay, but keeping their cases in front of the media almost certainly helped. It’s an advantage most immigrants don’t have.
“I do not think we would have the situation we have today without the support of all the people behind me,” he said. “It was critical for us to raise the profile of Jeanette Vizguerra and Arturo Hernandez Garcia.”
He suggested that perhaps President Donald Trump, with his love of celebrity and media attention, might want to meet with Vizguerra to discuss immigration policy now that TIME has put her on its most influential list.
Garcia’s attorney, Laura Lichter, said for as hard as she worked and as hard as Meyer worked, there was a large element of luck in these two people getting stays of deportation.
That’s not how the system should work, she said.
“This is about luck,” she said, adding that Vizguerra and Garcia were two of 30 people who got stays Thursday. “That’s nothing against our lawyering abilities. We worked hard and burned the midnight oil. But we know with Arturo’s case, it almost came a few days too late. If we had not got an interim stay, he would have been gone two weeks ago.”
Garcia was arrested at work last month by immigration authorities after being told in 2015 that his case was deprioritized. He left sanctuary and lived in the open for two years.
“The question that should be asked is not why this happened today, but why are people like Arturo and Jeanette facing deportation at all?” Lichter said. “Justice is the most fundamental American value that we have, and it’s one that this administration, with its change in immigration policy, has made a travesty of.”
After she left the press conference Vizguerra went to visit Ingrid Encalada Latorre, Denver’s other sanctuary-dweller who will be spending Mother’s Day inside the Mountain Friends Meeting, a Quaker church near DU.
Vizguerra said in addition to working on her own case she will now also be able to work for Encalada’s own stay of deportation.
“We’re going to keep pushing,” she said, after finally being united with her friend.
This story has been updated throughout.