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​Undocumented Mother of Four Living in Church Basement Named to Time 100 List

Apr 20 2017 4:35 PM
​Undocumented Mother of Four Living in Church Basement Named to Time 100 List

Photo by Chris Schneider via Getty Images

An expert on immigrant justice explains how such a high-profile platform shines a light on the fear many immigrant families live with today.

Today is Jeanette Vizguerra's 65th day living in the basement of a church in Denver. The undocumented mother of four sought refuge there in February when she was ordered to return to Mexico after living in the US for 20 years. Her story has garnered international attention, and today she was named on Time magazine's list of the 100 Most Influential People in the world. She joins the ranks of Ava Duverney, Gavin Grimm, Theresa May, Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump, and others.

The Time article about Vizguerra was penned by award-winning actor and activist America Ferrera. She writes, in part: "[Vizguerra] 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."

Vizguerra arrived in the US with her husband and daughter in 1997. Since then, she's had three other children and found work as a janitor. She also was "an active member of the Colorado immigration community and organizer with SEIU Local 105, where she fought for better pay and benefits for janitors," the Westword, a newspaper in Denver, reports.

Read more: 'We Are Here to Stay': OITNB's Diane Guerrero on the Future of Immigrant Rights

In 2009, she was pulled over for a traffic stop and discovered as undocumented. ICE officials extended her stay five times while she awaited the approval of a special "U visa" application. But when she went to check in with officials earlier this year—the first visit under the Trump administration—her request to stay in the country was denied. That's when she took sanctuary at First Unitarian Society.

"The public attention doesn't make me feel like a star or unique; I see it as an opportunity to raise my voice and educate more people," Vizguerra told the Westword recently. "This isn't my fight alone. What's stressful is that this is for my community, and I feel responsibility at a national level to represent a face and a voice — not just for Mexican and Latino immigrants, but for all immigrants."

About the news of being named to the Time 100, she said she was "deeply honored." She also noted that "even here in sanctuary" she made sure to file her taxes this week.

We can't turn away from this issue anymore.

Michelle Ortiz is the deputy director for Americans for Immigrant Justice. She says Vizguerra's inclusion on such a high-profile platform shines a light on the fear many immigrant families live with. "Because anti-immigrant rhetoric has been so pervasive, even young children live with constant fear and anxiety that they will come home from school to find their parents gone," she tells Broadly.

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Vizguerra's story is just another example of the need for immigration reform, Ortiz says. "Without a workable immigration system, families who have lived here for years, worked hard, paid taxes and contributed both economically and socially to their communities as Jeanette has will continue to live in constant fear," she says. "Immigration reform isn't just the right thing to do to save individual families. It benefits all Americans to create a workable system that allows families like Jeanette's to fully participate in and contribute to the country they love and call home."

Ortiz says she has seen a rise in calls from people with immigrant status who are now concerned for their loved ones. "This issue is now top of mind for so many who didn't feel affected by it in the past because of the new administration's actions, which make it clear that all undocumented people are now priorities for enforcement," she says. "We can't turn away from this issue anymore."

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