Undocumented mother seeks sanctuary in US church

Vizguerra hopes her case will help galvanise public opinion and spotlight the plight of undocumented people


Afp February 17, 2017
Jeanette Vizguerra, an undocumented mother of four, poses in the First Unitarian Society Church of Denver in Denver, Colorado, on February 16, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

DENVER: Jeanette Vizguerra fled to the United States from Mexico with her family after her husband was kidnapped three times, once with a gun to his head.

Now, nearly 20 years later, she is seeking refuge again, this time in a church to avoid being deported as part of President Trump's crackdown on immigrants living in the country illegally.

Vizguerra, 47, and her three young children, who are US citizens, are living in the basement of Denver's First Unitarian Society Church, where she sought sanctuary late on Tuesday, rightly suspecting that a stay of her deportation order would not be extended by a judge the following day.

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It is uncommon for US authorities to enter places of worship, schools and hospitals to deport undocumented immigrants.

Vizguerra, who also has an older daughter, said she was prepared to stay in a makeshift bedroom at the church for as long as it takes - even four years under Trump's presidency -- so as not to be separated from her children.

"People on the outside think it's hard, they say 'how could you sacrifice so much'," she told AFP. "But then when I look at my children, they're healthy, they're happy."

"I'm able to be here safely and hug them and they're here alongside me. I'm willing to do whatever it takes. I'm willing to sacrifice what is necessary in order to be with my children."

She and her kids live in a small room crowded with their belongings and two beds. The living space includes a kitchen and a playroom for her children, aged 12, 10 and six.

Jeanette Vizguerra (2nd L) poses with her husband Salvador Baez (2nd R) and their children, Roberto Baez (L), 10,  Zury Baez (C), 6, Luna Baez in the First Unitarian Society Church of Denver in Denver, Colorado on February 16, 2017. PHOTO: AFP Jeanette Vizguerra (2nd L) poses with her husband Salvador Baez (2nd R) and their children, Roberto Baez (L), 10, Zury Baez (C), 6, Luna Baez in the First Unitarian Society Church of Denver in Denver, Colorado on February 16, 2017. PHOTO: AFP

Last week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents arrested some 680 people across the United States as part of a crackdown by the new administration on the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Officials insist the raids targeted known criminals but rights advocates say people with no serious criminal records were also detained.

In Arizona, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos - an undocumented mother of two American-born children - was deported last week to her native Mexico after checking in with ICE, just like Vizguerra was supposed to do on Wednesday.

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Vizguerra worked as a janitor and a union organider after moving to the US, and is known in the Denver area as an immigration advocate. In 2009, following a routine traffic stop, she was convicted of using a fake social security number she says she needed to continue working. She was also convicted in 2013 on a second misdemeanour charge for illegally entering the country after she traveled to Mexico to see her ailing mother.

Although a deportation order was issued in 2011, her lawyer, Hans Meyer, has managed to help Vizguerra get approval to stay in the US.

Until now.

On Wednesday, after she failed to show up for her scheduled appointment to check in with ICE, a federal judge denied Vizguerra's request for another stay of her deportation.

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The mother-of-four said she hopes her case will help galvanise public opinion and spotlight the plight of undocumented people like her who have established roots in the country. "It's time for us to come together and look for solutions," she told AFP through a translator. "We have had to confront these things in the past."

"We've overcome harmful laws and policies that harmed us and it's time for us to come together and resist." Vizguerra said she wants all immigrants who may be faced with the same situation to know there are always options and resources. "They should never lose hope," she said. "There is always a reason to fight."

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