Im­mi­grant takes refuge in church to avoid de­por­ta­tion

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - COLLEEN SLEVIN

CENTENNIAL, COLO. — A Mex­i­can woman try­ing to avoid de­por­ta­tion took refuge in a Den­ver church Wed­nes­day af­ter U.S. im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties de­nied her re­quest to re­main in the coun­try, the lat­est case to rat­tle the im­mi­grant com­mu­nity as the White House prom­ises to boost en­force­ment.

Jeanette Vizguerra skipped her sched­uled check-in with Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment of­fi­cials in the sub­urb of Centennial. About 100 sup­port­ers demon­strated out­side the build­ing as her at­tor­ney, Hans Meyer, and a min­is­ter went in­side.

They said they were met by a lobby full of agents, a few of them armed, and were told Vizguerra would not get an­other ex­ten­sion as she tries to ob­tain a U visa, some­times given to crime vic­tims.

ICE spokesper­son Shawn Neu­dauer said Vizguerra was an “en­force­ment pri­or­ity” be­cause she had two mis­de­meanour con­vic­tions and a judge orig­i­nally is­sued fi­nal de­por­ta­tion or­ders for her in 2011.

Meyer said Vizguerra had been granted sev­eral pre­vi­ous ex­ten­sions un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion be­cause of­fi­cials re­al­ize it can take two or three years to ob­tain the visa.

“This is a big, huge red flare that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has plans to de­port as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble,” said Meyer, who de­clined to dis­close de­tails of the crime to which Vizguerra was a vic­tim.

Trump has made crack­ing down on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion a pri­or­ity, declar­ing plans to build a bor­der wall, threat­en­ing to cut off fund­ing to cities that pro­tect peo­ple in the coun­try il­le­gally and sign­ing a now-blocked ex­ec­u­tive or­der that banned trav­ellers from seven Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries.

Vizguerra took refuge in the church, a com­mon tac­tic to avoid de­por­ta­tion be­cause au­thor­i­ties gen­er­ally don’t en­ter places of wor­ship, as im­mi­grant ad­vo­cates called for the re­lease of 23-year-old in Washington state who was de­tained de­spite par­tic­i­pat­ing in a fed­eral pro­gram to pro­tect those brought to the U.S. il­le­gally as chil­dren.

She said she was think­ing of Daniel Ramirez Me­d­ina as well as Guadalupe Gar­cia de Rayos, an Ari­zona woman ar­rested dur­ing a rou­tine ICE check-in and de­ported to Mex­ico the next day, be­fore tak­ing sanctuary.

Vizguerra, cry­ing at first, spoke in Span­ish by phone through a bull­horn to sup­port­ers out­side the ICE build­ing and later in per­son at the First Uni­tar­ian Church not far from the state capi­tol.

With three of her four chil­dren join­ing her on the al­tar, the for­mer union or­ga­nizer and house cleaner said her only crimes were re­lated to work­ing in the coun­try il­le­gally to sup­port her fam­ily.

She said she was ar­rested for not hav­ing a driver’s li­cense or cur­rent ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion. Of­fi­cers also dis­cov­ered she had a forged iden­tity doc­u­ment, which she said had a So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber made up of dig­its from her birth date, not one that be­longed to an ac­tual per­son.

Vizguerra said she told her chil­dren of her de­ci­sion to stay in a base­ment room of the church that they had painted in 2014 in prepa­ra­tion for any im­mi­grant who might need to seek sanctuary.

“You can see the rea­sons be­hind me why I am fight­ing so hard to win my case,” she said of her fam­ily.

MARC PISCOTTY, GETTY IM­AGES

Un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant and ac­tivist Jeanette Vizguerra, 45, hugs her youngest child Zury Baez, 6, while ad­dress­ing sup­port­ers and the me­dia as she seeks sanctuary at Den­ver’s First Uni­tar­ian Church on Wed­nes­day.

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