Undocumented Denver Mom Takes Sanctuary In Church To Avoid Deportation

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Photo: Jeanette Vizguerra in church (AP Photo)
Jeanette Vizguerra, a Mexican woman seeking to avoid deportation from the United States, center, speaks as she holds her 6-year-old daughter, Zuri, right, while Jennifer Piper, left, of the American Friends Service Committee, looks on during a news conference in a church in which Vizguerra and her children have taken refuge, Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017, in Denver.

A immigration activist is taking sanctuary in a Denver church as she tries to avoid deportation.

Jeanette Vizguerra, whose case recently attracted the attention of the New York Times, has been fighting her removal for years. Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant, was due to to check in with immigration officials Wednesday. But she decided not to appear in fear of deportation.

Instead she went to the First Unitarian Society of Denver, which offered sanctuary. Speaking through a translator, Vizguerra criticized President Trump's recent immigration action.

“He’s not thinking about right now how my children feel, wondering how long I’ll have to live in this church," Vizguerra said. "And even though I’m surrounded by love and protection here, it’s still not my home.”

Her attorney Hans Meyer went to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in her place, and learned this time that she had been denied.

“We had faith that ICE would consider the case and consider her circumstances under their own guidance," Meyer said. "We don’t have that faith under the Trump administration.”

Immigration officials say they do intend to remove Vizguerra from the country, in part because of past charges of possessing forged documents.

“Jeanette Vizguerra-Ramirez, from Mexico, has two misdemeanor convictions," ICE spokesman Carl Rusnok said in a statement. "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."

Immigration officials also said that stays that temporary halt deportation are typically issued so individuals can prepare to leave the country. Vizguerra has received six stays since 2011, officials said.

In a statement, the Denver Mayor Michael Hancock said he is advocating for the certification of Vizguerra's pending U visa application. U visas are for victims of crimes willing to work with law enforcement on investigating criminal activity.

"Jeanette is not a threat to our community," Hancock said. "She is a mother of four, an active community member, and someone who has persistently pursued legal status through the proper channels."

Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat, also said he's working to help Vizguerra.

"This is yet another reminder that our immigration system should line up with our national priorities," Bennet said in a statement.