UPDATE: The undocumented immigrant who has taken sanctuary in a Denver church has been honored by Time Magazine as one of the country's most influential people.
Jeanette Vizguerra, who was first a janitor before putting together her own company, according to the Time piece, was celebrated by Emmy-winning actress America Ferrera, the star of the “Ugly Betty” television series.
Vizguerra is an “outspoken union organizer” who became an “advocate for immigration reform — a bold and risky thing for an undocumented immigrant,” Ferrera wrote for Time.
“She came to this country not to rape, murder or sell drugs, but to create a better life for her family. She shed blood sweat and tears to become a business owner, striving to give her children more opportunities than she had. This is not a crime. This is the American Dream,” the actress added.
As many immigrants now fear for their safety and the lives they built in their new country, it's incredibly inspiring to know Vizguerra's story is being so celebrated.
President Donald Trump's crackdown on undocumented immigrants is prompting many people across the country to fear for their freedom as tales of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests hit the news.
In one case, an immigrant has been so concerned for her safety that she's been living inside of a church, unable to go outside for fear of deportation.
Jeanette Vizguerra has been inside of the First Unitarian Church in Denver, Colorado, for two months. She moved in back in February after officials refused to grant her permission to stay in the country.
Vizguerra is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico and has lived in the United States for 20 years. In 2009, she was arrested for using a forged document, which was a fake Social Security number she used to apply for a job. At the time, she pleaded guilty for “attempted possession of a forged instrument,” according to a local Fox affiliate.
In 2012, she left the country for Mexico to visit her mother, who was on her deathbed. When she entered back, she was caught. Ever since, Vizguerra has been on ICE's radar, and she said she fears what would happen if she were detained.
The church is acting as a sanctuary from ICE and the only place Vizguerra said she feels safe.
“The people are very friendly. Very lovely,” she told reporters. “They came up with a plan of emergency if for whatever reason ICE were to come.”
“I need to fight for and defend what I think is right and just. And the right thing to do is to be with my kids,” Vizguerra added.
The immigrant's four children were all born in the United States, but her youngest is only 6 years old. Her oldest daughter, who has three children of her own, is allowed to stay in the country due to her status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals law.
Choosing to remain in the United States is her only choice because “[t]hey are my life,” she said. “And if I’m not with them then my life has no purpose.”
Vizguerra's children come to visit their mother at the church three times per week, but living in such conditions isn't easy.
“Nights when I’m alone that my kids aren’t with me is the most difficult part,” the immigrant stated. “My little Curi would always sleep with me,” and since her child “isn’t here” she “can’t hug her.”
But being away from her children so often isn't the only bad thing. According to the immigrant, she's also often saddened by the stories of other immigrants being taken away.
Last week, another undocumented immigrant living in Colorado wasn't as lucky as Vizguerra.
“All the memories rush to me. I have been in that situation three times. I’ve been in the same spot she was in now,” Vizguerra said.
Because of her situation, Vizguerra is incapable of helping others like De Jesus Sanchez, making her feel powerless. If she could leave, she told reporters, she “would be able to do more things than just being here. That is the hardest part of not being able to be outside.”
During her days, Vizguerra dedicates her time to fight for people like her who are running the risk of being deported. Unfortunately, she isn't able to do much about her own case as she's still unsure of what will happen to her future.
“Right now, there isn’t a next step,” she said. “So I can only wait. Only wait. I don’t know how long. One month? Probably longer. But emotionally, mentally, I’m prepared to be here all four years of Trump’s presidency.”
It's terribly sad that people have to live this way even if they haven't committed any crimes. Thankfully, more churches will step up by acting as sanctuaries in order to help people struggling to defend themselves from this administration.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters