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Undocumented Mother in Sanctuary in Denver Church: I’ve Paid Taxes for 20 Years, Why Hasn’t Trump?

Jeanette Vizguerra is an immigrant mother of four children who has taken refuge in a church.

We go inside the First Unitarian church in Denver to interview Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigrant mother of four children who has taken refuge there out of fear she would be arrested and deported to Mexico if she went to her scheduled check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Vizguerra came to the US from Mexico in 1997 and is one of the founders of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition. She previously won five postponements of deportation, but said she doubts she could win a similar reprieve under the Trump administration.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: So we go now from Seattle, Washington, to Denver, Colorado, where another parent is also fighting against possible deportation, by seeking sanctuary in a church. On Thursday, I spoke with Jeanette Vizguerra, a mother of four children who’s taken refuge in the First Unitarian Society church of Denver, out of fear she would be arrested and deported to Mexico if she went to her scheduled check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She has lived in this country for 20 years. She has four children here. I began by asking her, by Skype, as she sat in the church with her translator, how she decided to seek sanctuary in the church?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] So, in 2012, when I came back to the United States from my mother’s funeral, I knew that my case depended only on the discretion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, because my court process had already ended. And I came back to the U.S. I knew that I was going to need to organize more protection, not only for myself, but for other people in the community. And I began working with the American Friends Services Committee to create the Sanctuary Coalition. So, fortunately for me, I have not needed to enter refuge or sanctuary here at the church. The first person who benefited from that was Arturo Hernández García. And thanks to God that he was able to go home and is still here with his family.

And what led me to take the decision this time in my case was the silence from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Homeland Security about my stay application that I submitted on December 7. They kept saying over and over again that they were just reviewing my case, just reviewing my case. They wouldn’t give us any information. And then, last week, with the arrest and deportation of Guadalupe, as well as the detention of a young DREAMer named Daniel, who has DACA, I decided that it was not worth the risk to go and present myself at Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: You have lived in the United States for 20 years. Why did you come here in 1997?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yes, I came here in 1997. First, my husband came. And three months later, myself and my oldest daughter came to the United States. And we came because my husband, who was working as a chauffeur for a bus company, had been — had suffered three kidnapping experiences while driving the bus.

AMY GOODMAN: You have four children. Can you tell us how old they are and what their names are?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yes, I have four children. My oldest is almost 27. Her name is Tania, and she’s protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And then, my other three were born here in the United States. Luna is 12, Roberto is 10, and my littlest is six. Her name is Zury.

AMY GOODMAN: And how are the children affected by what’s happening to you right now? They came with you into the church.

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] So my children have been walking this journey with me for many, many years now. They have always been by my side in the work that I do in the community. And so, we have talked many times over the years about what would happen on a day like this. Ever since we founded the Sanctuary Coalition, I have talked with them about there might be a day that I would need to take refuge in the church. None of us were happy about the decision that came down yesterday from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We were all hugging and crying together. But my children said to me, “I’m so glad that you are safe.” And the difference for them is that I’m not deported to Mexico. And they kept saying, “You’re in a safe place, Mama. It’s going to be OK.”

AMY GOODMAN: What message, Jeanette, do you have for President Trump?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] So my message for President Trump is that he is doing a bad job administering the country. The decisions that he’s making are a big mistake, and not only with the immigrant community from Latin America, but also communities from around the world, the Muslim community, Southeast Asian communities and other communities. What would happen to this country if you lost the labor force of immigrants here in the United States? Who would pick crops, work in your hotels, restaurants and construction? Who would keep the engine of the economy moving forward? If he continues to target the immigrant community, it’s this whole country that will suffer the consequences economically.

The other message that I would like to say to President Trump is, I’m just a mother who wants to work hard for her children and be with her family. And that’s all that I’ve ever done in this country. And even though you have money and you have power, that money and power will not help you if your children are ever suffering, if they’re ever sick. It won’t change the fact that they’re suffering harm. And I wish that you would think of the harm that you’re causing my children.

The other thing that I want to ask is — supposedly, I am a criminal because I drove without a license, because I had expired stickers on my car, because I had false documents to work and put food on the table for my children. But what should we call you, Mr. President Trump, when you have been evading taxes for years, when the way that you’ve been acting is not in keeping with good conscience?

AMY GOODMAN: That is often misunderstood in this country, that you, Jeanette, have paid taxes all of these years.

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yes, my husband and I have both paid taxes the whole 20 years that we’ve been living here. Every year, we have paid taxes. And we’ve contributed our labor. And what many people don’t know is that immigrants can’t access the benefits of those taxes, any of the programs. That all stays here with this country. So I would like to ask: If you’re going to deport me, are you going to return 20 years of labor and taxes to me before I go, everything that I’ve contributed here?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jeanette Vizguerra, who came to the United States from Mexico 20 years ago, in 1997. She’s one of the founders of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, and she’s helped other undocumented immigrants seek sanctuary. She’s previously won five postponements of deportation, but said Wednesday she doubts she could win a similar reprieve under the Trump administration. And so she has taken refuge in Denver’s Unitarian church.

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