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Mexican holed up in US church one of ‘Time’s 100 most influential people

Jeanette Vizguerra has spent two months in a Denver religious center over deportation fears

100 personas influyentes
Jeanette Vizguerra in February. EFE

Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2017 list contains everyone from US President Donald Trump to Pope Francis, as well as Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and the Oscar-winning actress Viola Davis.

But among the list of celebrities, athletes and top scientists there is also Jeanette Vizguerra, a 45-year-old undocumented Mexican immigrant who has spent nearly two months living in the basement of a church in Denver because of fears that she will be deported after two decades in the United States. Vizguerra has become a representative of resistance to the immigration policies of the new US president.

US immigration officials do not usually target religious centers in their operations

“I want to share this recognition with the 11 million immigrant families who are out there in the same situation as me, who are also fighting in the shadows, who are still too afraid to come out and show their face,” Vizguerra told journalists in front of the First Unitarian Church, where she sought sanctuary nearly two months ago taking advantage of the fact that immigration officials do not usually target religious centers in their operations.

“We are not just here fighting for our families but also against hate, against homophobia, against the kind of climate this administration has created,” said Vizguerra, a well-known human rights activist in Colorado, referring to the hostile stance taken by the Donald Trump administration toward undocumented migrants in the US.

US authorities discovered in 2009 that Vizguerra was using fake documentation. Her lawyer said she had obtained those papers in order to find work. Vizguerra admitted her guilt and was hit with a deportation order. However, on the five subsequent occasions that the mother of four underwent routine checks with immigration authorities, her lawyer managed to renew a stay on the deportation.

But when Vizguerra’s lawyer tried to obtain a new extension to the stay in December, there was no response. In February, the new Trump administration denied the request. A day earlier, Vizguerra had already sought refuge in the church she now calls home.

I want to share this recognition with the 11 million immigrant families who are fighting in the shadows

Jeanette Vizguerra

The woman, who moved to the United States to work as a janitor and went on to become a union organizer and founder of a small business, lives in fear of being separated from her three younger children, ages 6, 10 and 12, who are not at risk of deportation because they were born in the United States.

Meanwhile, both her husband and her 26-year-old daughter, who was not born in the United States but has the right to live and work in the country under Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, are in charge of her younger children.

Trump criticized the DACA program during his election campaign but has yet to touch it.

English version by George Mills.

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