After seven years fighting deportation, Jeannette Vizguerra finally has some good news.
On Wednesday, the longtime Denver resident and mother of three told a crowd of supporters and media that she has been granted a stay of removal for 12 months. That means she won’t have to report back to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement until this time next year.
A year may not seem like much, but it’s a big improvement over the six-month stays Vizguerra has gotten used to.
“Finally, for one year, I can be tranquil,” she said in an interview, speaking Spanish. “I’m very happy.”
Vizguerra immigrated to the U.S. without papers more than 20 years ago, but she has been fighting separation from her family since 2009.
That’s the year she was pulled over in Aurora for driving with expired license plates. When it became clear that she was using a false social security number to work the jobs that fed her family, immigration authorities ordered her deportation.
Vizguerra worked to fight the removal order, but jeopardized her case when, in 2012, she returned to Mexico to visit her dying mother. Her subsequent reentry in 2013 set off a long legal battle — and a string of stays in detention centers — that she and her supporters have been fighting ever since.
The news that Vizguerra has been granted a year-long stay means more than just one less immigration check-in this year. It should also provide enough time for the government to finally process Vizguerra’s request for a U visa.
U visas offer immigration relief for victims of crimes in exchange for cooperation with law enforcement. The visa program was designed to ensure that immigrants who have endured human trafficking, domestic violence and other crimes aren’t silenced by fears of deportation. In return, they help bring criminals to justice.
“I feel like I’m closer to a final, long-term victory,” Vizguerra said.
Attorney Hans Meyer, who has worked with Vizguerra for the past four years, says the recent news is cause for hope.
“Having a year reflects the validity of our claim to a U visa, and it gives us enough time for the process to unfold,” he said. “We feel optimistic.”
Vizguerra herself says her fight hasn’t been easy, but she hopes it will lead to policy changes in the future.
“It’s been seven long years of a very hard, difficult struggle, but I think the fight has resulted in some positive things,” she said. “This isn’t just my victory. It’s a victory for all of the community that has fought alongside me in different ways.”
Meyer stressed that the year-long deportation relief, though not a final solution, also speaks volumes about the priorities of immigration authorities. They have seen that Vizguerra isn’t a threat, and they know her supporters are willing to stand by her.
“Today, the right thing happened,” Meyer said. “The government granted a mom the chance to stay with her kids.”
Photo credit: Eric Leveridge, American Friends Service Committee