(ABC) — An undocumented mother of four who took refuge in a Denver church out of fear of being deported to Mexico was finally able to leave her sanctuary, her attorney said today.
Jeanette Vizguerra, a 45-year-old Mexican native and immigrant rights activist, has lived in Denver for 20 years and has three U.S.-born children –- Luna, 12, Roberto, 10, and Zury, 6. Her oldest child, 26-year-old Tania Baez, was born in Mexico and has a work permit in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
In February, Vizguerra took sanctuary in the basement of the First Unitarian Society of Denver after her latest application for a stay of removal was rejected. She skipped her scheduled check-in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) out of fear that she would be immediately deported and separated from her children.
She left the First Baptist Church of Denver this morning after living there for 86 days.
In a press conference, Vizguerra thanked government officials who supported her and underscored the need for immigration reform.
“It’s time. The president, Donald Trump, has said he is going to work for us,” she said in Spanish. “It’s time for the Republicans and Democrats to work together for immigration reform.”
Vizguerra added, “It’s time to stop. We do not want to be in fear. We are going to continue our fight and struggle.”
On Thursday ICE granted Vizguerra’s stay of removal application until March 15, 2019.
It is the latest chapter in her eight-year battle to stay in the U.S. with her children that began when an order for her deportation was issued in 2011.
Vizquerra referred to her children when explaining in February why she took refuge in the Denver sanctuary.
“You can see the reasons behind me why I am fighting so hard to win my case,” she told The Associated Press.
Her lawyer, Hans Meyer, said Vizquerra embodies the values of integrity and perseverance.
“Jeanette Vizguerra has demonstrated unimaginable courage to fight for her family, for basic due process of law, and for fundamental fairness in our immigration system,” Meyer said in a statement Thursday. “Jeanette is a living example of the true American values of courage, integrity and perseverance.”
ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer told ABC News in February that Vizguerra was an “enforcement priority” based on two misdemeanor convictions, including what her lawyer says is the common practice of using a fake social security number to get a job. Neudauer did not say if Vizguerra’s request for an extension earlier this year was denied due to a change in immigration policy.
Under U.S. government policy, immigration authorities are supposed to avoid entering places of worship and other “sensitive locations,” unless they have prior approval from a supervisor or face “exigent circumstances” that demand immediate action.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), who has been working closely with Vizguerra’s attorney and introduced a bill in March for her relief, said he is “pleased to hear” the mother has been granted a temporary stay and that she should “never” have been a target for deportation.
“We must continue fighting for policies that keep families together and fix our broken immigration system,” Bennet said in a statement Thursday.
Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, who also introduced a bill on Vizguerra’s behalf, said he is “grateful” the mother will be “afforded more time in the U.S. and the due process she deserves.”