Two months ago, Jeanette Vizguerra moved into the basement of the First Unitarian Society Church in Denver in a desperate effort to shield herself from deportation. She hasn’t gone outside since, afraid that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers are waiting to arrest her and tear her away from her three young, American-born children.
It’s a well-founded fear. Since President Donald Trump signed two executive orders directing federal officials to ramp up efforts to arrest and deport undocumented immigrants, many of whom have no criminal record, ICE agents have stormed courtrooms, homes, and workplaces across the country to make arrests. Churches remain one of the few places ICE officers will not go.
Vizguerra, a Mexican national, has been in the U.S. for 20 years. But in 2009, she was arrested and plead guilty for having fake identification that her lawyer said she only acquired to be able to work as a janitor and union organizer. The arrest set in motion deportation proceedings, but she was granted at least five postponements. Yet, faced with an upcoming regular check-in with ICE–meetings that have increasingly become a fraught pretense for arresting undocumented residents–Vizguerra decided to seek refuge at the Unitarian church.
Now, she’s fighting to stay in the country with her children, the youngest of whom is 6 years old, by any means necessary.
“They are my life. And if I’m not with them then my life has no purpose,” she told Denver’s Fox affiliate.
Her children come to visit three times a week, but the long nights without her children are lonely, Vizguerra said.
“Nights when I’m alone that my kids aren’t with me is the most difficult part,” she said. “My little Curi would always sleep with me isn’t here so I can’t hug her. And to see the best of my other kids empty, this is the hardest part, that part people don’t get.”
Vizguerra, who’s known in the Denver area for her work on immigration issues, also said it’s difficult watching other undocumented people being deported from behind the church walls.
“If I was out, I would be able to do more things than just being here. That is the hardest part of not being able to be outside,” she told the Denver station. “How could I not go on? I have a great responsibility.”
And she’s prepared to wait Trump out, whether that takes months or years.
“Right now, there isn’t a next step,” Vizguerra 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.”