On Thursday, undocumented immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra’s stay of removal expired. And she still has no idea whether U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will grant her another one.
Vizguerra’s friends, family, attorney and supporters gathered in Aurora City Park that afternoon to say a few words before holding a prayer vigil. Fighting back tears, the beloved mother and activist thanked her community for unwavering support.
“Everytime I feel like falling, my community is here to pick me up,” she said.
Vizguerra has been in the U.S. for the past 20 years — save one brief trip back to Mexico to see her dying mother. Coming home to the U.S. from that trip, she was picked up by border patrol agents and sent to a detention center in Texas.
“When I was released, it was at this park that we had the announcement,” she said, reminding the group of its victories over the years. “It was at this park that after being away for so long, my community received me with warmth and love.”
But Thursday was a far more somber occasion.
“It’s torturous to have no news, to be in limbo, to be in the unknown,” Vizguerra said.
Longtime advocate Gabriela Flora of the American Friends Service Committee gave an impassioned plea on Vizguerra’s behalf. “This week and next week, mothers across Aurora, Denver and all of Colorado will help their children as they begin school,” she said. “And Jeanette is one of those mothers.”
Flora’s and Vizguerra’s daughters goofed off together in the shady grass adjacent to the vigil, occasionally running over to tug at their moms’ arms. Vizguerra’s grade-school aged son swung from a tree branch.
“They need their mother by their side,” Flora continued. “They need her there throughout the year and in all the coming years. And that’s why we’re here to say, ‘ICE, this is enough. Jeanette is part of this community, and she belongs here.”
Vizguerra’s attorney Hans Meyer said he’s been waiting by the phone to hear back from ICE. The application was sent in well in advance, he said, and contains around 800 pages of documents supporting her case. “If the Obama Administration’s memos about enforcement priorities mean anything, then Jeanette should not be deported.”
Meyer explained that they’re asking ICE to show discretion, which it does only in “compelling and exceptional” cases. Vizguerra had been granted two year-long stays, but her most recent stay was for only six months — for no discernible reason. Meyer worries that the delay they’re currently experiencing is another tactic meant to wear Vizguerra down until she gives up and leaves on her own volition.
But as Meyer’s paralegal and Vizguerra’s longtime friend Julie Gonzales put it, “Anyone who knows Jeanette knows that homegirl isn’t going to give up just ‘cause.”
Vizguerra agreed it would be naive to doubt her resolve.
“If they want to play ‘who’s going to wear out first,’ it’s going to be them,” she said. “I’m ready for anything. And they should know that.”
The vigil concluded with a prayer lead by Rev. Anne Dunlap. She asked everyone to huddle together around Vizguerra and her children and channel strength through touch.
After seven minutes, the group broke apart and everyone seemed to leave refreshed and ready for whatever comes next.
Photos by Nat Stein