Denver-area undocumented immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra denied stay in U.S., takes sanctuary

“We’ve always had a meritorious request for a stay … We also have a very different political environment at this time,” attorney Hans Meyer said.

Jeanette Vizguerra addresses supporters at the First Unitarian Society of Denver where she has taken sanctuary, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra addresses supporters at the First Unitarian Society of Denver where she has taken sanctuary, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra addresses supporters at the First Unitarian Society of Denver where she has taken sanctuary, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Updated at 10 a.m. Wednesday: Jeanette Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant who has been living in the Denver metro for nearly two decades, was denied her stay from deportation from the United States Wednesday morning because she did not attend her scheduled check-in with immigration authorities.

Vizguerra — a mother of three U.S. citizen children, ages 12, 10 and 6, and an adult daughter who has status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — has now entered sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society of Denver.

Vizguerra had faced the possibility of deportation multiple times, but the threat seemed much more imminent in light of stories from around the country of immigration officers applying new standards and moving with much greater speed than before.

For those reasons, Vizguerra decided to seek sanctuary at First Unitarian, where another undocumented immigrant mother is also living, instead of attend her scheduled check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday morning.

Jeanette Vizguerra kisses her son Roberto on stage at the First Unitarian Society of Denver, where she and her family addressed supporters and the press after she announced she would take sanctuary here to avoid deportation, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra kisses her son Roberto on stage at the First Unitarian Society of Denver. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

While about 100 of her supporters waited outside, Vizguerra’s pastor and lawyer met with ICE officials and said after the meeting that they would have detained Vizguerra if she had been present.

“Today is a hard day, but today is the day that we fight,” said attorney Hans Meyer, who represents Vizguerra. “Jeanette’s case is ‘Exhibit A’ in the brutality and the stupidity of Trump’s immigration enforcement plans.”

Hours after Vizguerra took sanctuary, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock released a statement in support of her.

“What’s happening to Jeanette Vizguerra is appalling and the result of a broken immigration system — a system made worse by the chaotic actions of the White House and ICE,” the statement read. “Jeanette is not a threat to our community. She is a mother of four, an active community member, and someone who has persistently pursued legal status through the proper channels. She has now become the latest victim of wrongful enforcement actions, executive orders and policies coming out of Washington that are punishing immigrants, tearing apart families and scaring our communities.”

America Carbajal speaks tearfully to a crowd of Jeanette Vizguerra's supporters, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
America Carbajal speaks tearfully to a crowd of Vizguerra’s supporters. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Rep. Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat who is sponsoring a private bill to give Vizguerra legal status, said the president has created the atmosphere of fear that led to her actions.

“The Trump administration’s actions have created fear throughout the immigrant community, forcing productive members of our cities and towns to retreat into sanctuary in order to remain united with their families,” he said in a statement. “It is a shame that Jeanette, a victim of a crime herself, is being re-victimized by our failed immigration system and deceptive enforcement priorities.

“Like Jeanette, I am alarmed by the rogue ICE activity that is taking place throughout the country.  We have heard countless stories of recent raids that have taken place in various states, terrorizing the immigrant communities in which they are conducted. Destroying families and detaining productive members of our communities runs counter to our values as Americans.”

In Phoenix, Guadalupe García de Rayos had shown up every year for routine check-ins, and then last week, she found herself back in Mexico, a country she’d last lived in as a child. Her crime was using a fake Social Security number to work, and there was an order for her detention, but it had never been acted upon. In Seattle, Daniel Ramirez Medina, 23, was taken into custody despite never having committed a crime and having a work visa under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. His lawyer said he hopes it was a mistake.

That meant that Vizguerra’s scheduled check-in with immigration authorities Wednesday morning brought new fear.

Jeanette Vizguerra's supporters raise their hands in prayer outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement local headquarters in Centennial, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra’s supporters raise their hands in prayer outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement local headquarters in Centennial. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

“We’ve always had a meritorious request for a stay, and her case has only become more meritorious,” Meyer said in an interview Tuesday. “We also have a very different political environment at this time.”

Vizguerra has lived here since 1997. She was arrested for driving on a false record in 2009. She has no other criminal convictions. She was detained trying to come back into the United States in 2012 after she went to Mexico to visit her dying mother. Since then, she has had to check in with authorities a few times a year and repeatedly faced the possibility of deportation.

Jeanette Vizguerra addresses supporters at the First Unitarian Society of Denver where she has taken sanctuary, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra addresses supporters at the First Unitarian Society of Denver. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Vizguerra has an application pending for a U-Visa, a special type of visa for people who are witnesses to or victims of crimes and cooperate with police. The U-Visa would give her legal status to remain in the United States, and Denver police have signed off on her request. However, it’s held up in a backlog of visa requests. There’s also a private bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to give her legal status.

Until today, she had been granted stays of deportation. Meyer submitted another request for a stay two months ago, but he did not hear before the scheduled check-in whether it would be granted.

Jeanette Vizguerra's lawyer greets her daughter Zury inside the First Unitarian Society of Denver, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra’s lawyer greets her daughter Zury. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Because Vizguerra’s case is so prominent, her deportation would have sent a message.

She’s well known, with her case having received a lot of media attention over the years, she’s complied with all the requirements placed on her by ICE and she has a visa application in process.

“If (the Department of Homeland Security) denies Jeanette’s stay of removal, not only will it tear a mother away from her three citizen children, it will also drive a stake into the heart of community policing principles by sending a clear message to immigrant victims of crime that they are targets of Trump’s brutal deportation machinery,” Meyer said in a statement.

Jeanette Vizguerra's lawyer Hans Meyer addresses her supporters, announcing that she has taken sanctuary to avoid deportation, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra’s lawyer Hans Meyer addresses her supporters. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

President Donald Trump has pledged to deport immigrants who have committed crimes, and that could extend to people who committed misdemeanors like Vizguerra. The Washington Post reported that immigration authorities admitted they were acting more aggressively under the new administration than they would have before, though Obama also deported hundreds of thousands of people, including many who committed minor offenses.

So far, increased immigration enforcement had not been reported in Colorado, but immigration attorneys and advocates describe communities that feel terrorized. Members of Denver’s Immigrant and Refugee Commission told Hancock that some parents are keeping their children home from school, and others are asking neighbors if they would be willing to look after their children if they get picked up and don’t make it home.

Jeanette Vizguerra's pastor Anne Dunlap and lawyer Hans Meyer listen as she addresses supporters at the First Unitarian Society of Denver, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra’s pastor Anne Dunlap and lawyer Hans Meyer listen as she addresses supporters. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Vizguerra has called on her friends and supporters to be there when she’s supposed to report.

“Many of you have been accompanying me for years during this very important and difficult struggle,” Vizguerra said in a statement. “I’ve had incredible support. Even though they are young, my children have been there for me, giving me strength to continue at points when I felt like falling down. I hope for a stay and then my U-Visa to be approved so my children don’t have to continue to be so strong. I want the administration to understand we will continue as mothers and fathers to fight to stay with our children.”

Vizguerra was due to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 12245 E. Caley Ave., in Centennial at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Vizguerra’s relatives and supporters, including from the American Friends Service Committee and We Belong Together, planned to rally there, while other supporters deliver a petition Wednesday afternoon in Washington, D.C.

Jeanette Vizguerra's daughter Zury looks at a board of First Unitatian Society leaders with church admin Glenn Barrows. Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra’s daughter Zury looks at a board of First Unitatian Society leaders with church admin Glenn Barrows. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jeanette Vizguerra holds her daughter Zury as her lawyer addresses supporters at the First Unitarian Society of Denver, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra holds her daughter Zury as her lawyer addresses supporters. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Jeanette Vizguerra heads to her room in the First Unitarian Society of Denver, surrounded by press, Feb. 15, 2017. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite) jeanette vizguerra; immigration; undocumented; deportation; sanctuary; denver; colorado; kevinjbeaty; denverite;
Jeanette Vizguerra heads to her room in the First Unitarian Society of Denver, surrounded by press. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Stephanie Snyder and Kevin Beaty contributed reporting. 

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.