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Illegal Alien Taking Refuge in Denver Church to Avoid Deportation

On Wednesday, a mother of four went to First Unitarian Church looking for sanctuary, worried a visit to see immigration agents could lead to her deportation.

Jeanette Vizguerra was inside that church long before her hearing was set to start at the ICE center in Centennial, Colorado.

Vizguerra has been in the U.S. for more than 20 years, but still has not learned to speak English and spoke to the media via interpreter.

She was convicted of falsifying documents and entering the country illegally, both misdemeanors.

"I did not make this decision lightly," Vizguerra said through an interpreter on Wednesday. "I was thinking about it for weeks, but I think I made the right decision in coming here instead of going to the immigrations office today."

 A judge ruled she could no longer stay after her hearing. For now she will take sanctuary at the church. She's not sure for how long, or if she'll ever get permission to live in America legally.     

Vizguerra is the second person to seek sanctuary to avoid deportation in the same church. 

Starting in 2014, local TV media produced several stories about a father of two who spent 9 months at the dame First Unitarian church to avoid deportation.

It's been more than a year since Arturo Hernandez Garcia felt he could leave the church and continue living in the Denver area with his family. After the election, however, he's no longer sure if immigration authorities will change their minds about his case.

"I'm worried that any time we can be arrested," Hernandez Garcia said.

Hernandez Garcia faced an assault-related charge a few years back, but was found not guilty. However, that's how federal authorities were tipped of his visa expired.

By 2015, ICE decided not to re-open his case and declared him low priority for deportation, so he left the church. Now, Hernandez Garcia says that letter he received from ICE is his only protection.

He's still fighting with his lawyer to stay in the Denver area, which has been home for the last 17 years.

 "You have more opportunities for life here. In Mexico, now the violence too - I have two daughters it's dangerous," Hernandez Garcia said.

Garcia says his case for a visa is essentially stuck in the same place as when he left the church in 2015.

He says Vizguerra was among the first people to rally support for him when he was in a similar situation. He says since then, ICE hasn't contacted him.

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock offered words of support to these people but says there is nothing the city can do because it is a federal matter.

Local residents, however, feel differently.  "I had a traffic ticket and I failed to appear" said Joe Smith, "Cops came through my front door and took me out by force because I didn't show up.  Why does she get away with violating a court order but the rest of us don't?"

Ellen Gianelli said "Why hasn't she learned our language? She's been here twenty years and didn't even learn to speak English.  She doesn't want to be an "American"  she just wants to be __ IN__ America.  Throw her out."

ICE Officials we spoke to made clear "Harboring a person known to be in the United States unlawfully is a federal criminal Felony.  The church is opening itself up to being criminally prosecuted by allowing that person to stay there. They can also lose their tax exempt status for committing a crime."

 

 

 

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