By Tom Mustin
DENVER (CBS4) – An emotional Jeanette Vizguerra addressed the media from inside her sanctuary at Denver’s First Unitarian Church.
“This is not just an attack on me, it’s an attack on the entire immigrant community,” Vizguerra said.
Vizguerra is an undocumented immigrant. She came to the U.S. 20 years ago. She has a radio show and is active in immigrant affairs. In 2009, Vizguerra was convicted of using a fake Social Security number that she says she needed to continue working.
“The only thing that I’ve done is use false documents to put food on the table of my family,” she said through a translator.
On Wednesday, surrounded by three of her children, Vizguerra explained why she’s hiding in the church to avoid being deported. She also sent a message to President Donald Trump.
“He’s not thinking right now about how my children feel, wondering how long I’ll have to live in this church.
On Wednesday her attorney, Hans Meyer, held a rally in front of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) headquarters in Centennial. Vizguerra failed to show up for a scheduled meeting there after ICE turned down her request for a Stay of Deportation.
“They would have arrested her and she would have been torn away from her three small children this morning without any notice,” Meyer told CBS4’s Tom Mustin.
Rev. Mike Morran says the woman is welcome to stay at his church as long as necessary.
“Away from her three children that need her, deporting her to a country she hasn’t been in in 20 years. That punishment is obscene for the crime that was committed,” Morran said.
It’s a crime Vizguerra says will not define her.
“If the system thinks it can break me, that it can make me kneel, the system is wrong,’ she said.
ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer released a statement to CBS4 saying, “Jeanette Vizguerra-Ramirez, from Mexico, has two misdemeanor convictions. On Nov. 18, 2011, a federal immigration judge originally issued her final orders of deportation to Mexico. Based on these factors, Vizguerra-Ramirez is an ICE enforcement priority. Ms. Vizguerra-Ramirez’s request for another Stay of Removal was denied Feb. 15, 2017 by the ICE Denver Field Office.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock went into great detail in an interview with CBS4’s Stan Bush. He says the city has almost no power to protect undocumented residents immigration agents have targeted for deportation.
“We recognize that is the unfortunate result of a chaotic, lacking-a-focused policy out of Washington,” Hancock said.
Hancock echoed concerns that deporting an undocumented resident who committed small crimes will have a chilling effect. City leaders worry the undocumented will retreat to the shadows and not report crimes in their neighborhoods out of fear of deportation.
“This will lead to greater chaos in our communities,” Hancock said. “We want residents to go through their lives and not feel that they’ll be separated from their families.”
On Wednesday, the mayor called Colorado’s congressional delegation over concerns over the Vizguerra case and the president’s immigration stance. He says Vizguerra would not have to worry about deportation if Immigration could process her U visa application faster.
“This can be handled very quickly and swiftly and amenably so that this woman is not torn away from her four children who expect and depend on her by getting her that U visa,” Hancock said.
A previous undocumented immigrant, Arturo Hernandez Garcia, lived at the First Unitarian Church for four months in 2014. He left after ICE sent the church a message that he was no longer a priority.