Surrounded by supporters and her attorney, Jeanette Vizguerra announced Thursday that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied an application crucial for her to obtain legal residency in the country.
The long-time activist and immigrants rights crusader has sought a “U-Visa,” which allows people claiming to be the victims of violent crimes to remain in the U.S.
She said she’s been fighting for 11 years to overturn a deportation order that “started with a traffic stop.” The case against her revolves around a fake social security number that she used to work. Addressing press, she emphasized that she never used “stolen” documents.
Vizguerra has lived in and out of sanctuary since 2017 as she pursued a U-Visa. Last March, a special bill expired that allowed her to exit the church where she was living. She re-entered the First Unitarian Society of Denver in Capitol Hill soon after.
USCIS sent a letter denying her application for an I-192 waiver — a necessity to continue pursuing a U-Visa — in late May.
Her attorney, Bryce Downer, characterized the reasons laid out in the denial letter as personal attacks. Vizguerra has long held that federal officials have singled her out for deportation as a result of her activism.
In 2017, the first time she took sanctuary in the church, then-Congressman Jared Polis held a press conference with her to denounce a “rogue” immigration agent who was needlessly pursuing her deportation.
As she re-entered sanctuary this year, she sued federal immigration authorities for “unlawful, arbitrary actions” against her. That case is ongoing.
Downer said he’s worked on many cases involving U-Visa applications. In the past few years, he said, many cases that would previously have been accepted have faced denials.
“There is definitely a systemic change that is occurring within our immigration system right now,” he said.
Downer said his team will ask USCIS to reconsider the decision, though there’s no formal appeals process for a denied I-192 waiver. Meanwhile, Vizguerra is holding out hope that a new bill introduced by Boulder Congressman Joe Neguse, created specifically for her, will secure her six months of freedom, though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said it will no longer honor these kinds of measures.
Vizguerra announced the news the same week federal immigration officials said they would target some 2,000 family units with deportation orders for removal. Mark Morgan, ICE’s new chief, told reporters Wednesday the agency means to send “a strong message” to anyone who might contemplate entering the country illegally.