Undocumented immigrant Jeanette Vizguerra celebrates small victory

The Colorado Independent has been following the story of Jeanette Vizguerra — an undocumented immigrant in Denver. There have been ups and downs in her six-year fight against deportation, and this week she’s on the up.

Late Tuesday afternoon, her attorney Hans Meyer got word from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that Vizguerra’s latest application for a stay of removal has been granted. The federal government no longer considers her a deportation priority — at least for the next six months.

Having a stay of removal is no guarantee she won’t be deported. But it’s a temporary reprieve, so Vizguerra’s feelings are mixed. “Honestly, I’m disappointed ICE did not approve my stay for a year as we requested. However, I’ve been through the anguish of short stays four times now, and I know February will come fast, and I intend to be ready.”

And there’s another layer to Vizguerra’s case now: She was recently the victim of a crime, qualifying her to apply for a U visa. Congress created the U visa in 2000 to offer protection for people who may be hesitant to report crimes to authorities, particularly undocumented women who experience domestic abuse or sexual assault. Part of the extensive application process is a certification from law enforcement saying the petitioner “has been helpful, is being helpful or is likely to be helpful” in the investigation or prosecution a crime.

The Denver Police Department has signed such a form for Vizguerra.

Scott Snow is director of the department’s Victims Assistance Unit, and is the sole arbiter of these certifications. He gets between 20 and 30 applications a month. Upwards of 90 percent are granted.

On the phone with The Colorado Independent, Snow laughed about jabs that he’s single-handedly turning Denver into a sanctuary city.

“This is not just a blank check,” he said. “It’s a tool that helps us build bridges with marginalized communities that may have a fear of working with police for fear of getting deported.”

Because signing a certificate of helpfulness is a matter of discretion, many agencies simply don’t do it and offer no reason why. Snow knows it’s a politicized issue, but he sees it as a matter of safety.

“When you get into immigration issues you start dividing red and blue and things start to get polarized. But this has nothing to do with that,” he said. “This is about looking at victims’ needs. Our agency wants to be responsive and inclusive of the entire community.”

The certification from DPD does not grant Vizguerra a U visa. It’s just one part of her application. U.S. Customs and Immigration Services will have the final word. If Vizguerra gets the U visa, she will be safe from deportation for four years, after which she can apply for a Green Card.

Of course being the victim of a crime is never a good thing, but Vizguerra’s attorney Hans Meyer is grateful to Denver police for signing the certificate of helpfulness.

“We thank the Denver Police Department for utilizing their discretion and signing Jeanette’s U visa certification,” he said. “It opens up a new avenue for Jeanette to seek protection under federal immigration law.”

This Saturday, Vizguerra and her supporters will celebrate at Ralston Central Park in Arvada. There will be homemade cupcakes and sugar cookies.

Local pastor Anne Dunlap said she’s honored to stand by Vizguerra. “She teaches us how not to give up fighting for a better world. I love Jeanette and love her children and want to live in a world without anguish or fear.”

Vizguerra is looking forward to Saturday at the park, “but then we’ll go back to work on what I need to do to keep my family together, here, in our home.

Photo by Nat Stein