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Deportation reprieve for Vizguerra, Hernandez Garcia slipped in before White House changed rules
Jeanette Vizguerra walked triumphantly out of the sanctuary of a downtown Denver church Friday morning and joined Arturo Hernandez Garcia on the state Capitol grounds to celebrate the news that they won’t face deportation for at least two more years.
But Vizguerra and Hernandez Garcia said they were among 33 lucky immigrants who have been living in the country illegally and were granted a stay of deportation just before the Trump administration changed the rules for others in similar situations.
That’s because Colorado’s congressional delegation filed private bills in recent weeks that, if passed, would save the two from deportation and set them on a path to legal status. Traditionally, people who have private bills filed on their behalf are granted a two-year stay of deportation to give the bills time to work their ways through Congress.
On May 7, the Trump administration said it no longer would extend the courtesy of a two-year stay, but the Department of Homeland Security allowed all those with private bills filed before May 7 to have the two-year stay.
“Yesterday, Jeanette and Arturo were two of 33 cases that got lucky,” said Laura Lichter, Hernadez Garcia’s immigration attorney. “This administration cannot pretend the people who go through this system, like Jeanette and Arturo, are being treated fairly in any way. This system is not fair.”
Still, Vizguerra and Hernandez Garcia celebrated the news as their families and friends sang and chanted. Some waved posters supporting them and others who are living under the threat of removal from the U.S..
Their attorneys learned late Thursday evening that they had been granted stays until March 2019. Vizguerra said she called her four children and asked them to come to the church.
“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” she said of the hearing the news. “My hands were sweating.”
For Vizguerra, the stay means celebrating Mother’s Day with her children and grandchildren at their home instead of inside a church basement where she has lived for 86 days. Hernandez Garcia will get to attend his daughter’s graduation Monday without worrying about being picked up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Both have been living in the United States illegally for more than two decades and have been petitioning for years for legal status.
Hernandez Garcia lived at Denver’s First Unitarian Society for nine months in late 2014 and early 2015 and left sanctuary after ICE sent him a letter saying he was no longer an enforcement priority.
But he was arrested at his workplace in late April and taken to a federal detention facility in Centennial, where he was held until last week.
Vizguerra took sanctuary first at the Unitarian church and then moved to First Baptist Church at East 13th Avenue and Grant Street after a stay of deportation was denied earlier this year.
Vizguerra, who has two misdemeanor convictions, was ordered to leave the country in November 2011 but had been receiving extensions for years.
Vizguerra, already a well-known community activist, in April was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.
On Friday, attorneys for the two said the attention given to their cases by the media and immigration activists helped push the congressional delegation into sponsoring bills on their behalf. They thanked U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette for their help.
If approved by the House and Senate, the bill would allow Vizguerra and Hernandez Garcia to apply for permanent residency.
However, the bills also say that if Hernandez Garcia and Vizguerra receive approval to become legal residents, the Department of Homeland Security would reduce the number of immigrant visas approved for others from their home countries by one each.
If the bills do not pass, then both would be back on ICE’s deportation list.
Amid Friday’s jubilant vibe, Vizguerra and Hernandez Garcia took time to mention others still living in sanctuary, including Ingrid Encalada Latorre, a Peruvian woman who has been living since February in the Mountain View Friends Meeting House in Denver’s University Park neighborhood.
She did not receive a stay and will continue living in the church.
“Even though my case has not ended, the next two years my energy will be used to fight for her,” Vizguerra said through a translator.
Meanwhile, Vizguerra has applied for a special visa for crime victims, but there is no guarantee that will be granted because the United States issues a limited number each year. Hernandez Garcia hopes his ongoing efforts to secure a green card finally will happen.
“The story doesn’t end here,” said Hans Meyer, who is Vizguerra’s lawyer. “Jeanette’s case still needs a lot of work. It’s still going to take a lot of time and a lot of energy.
“Today, we sent a message from our community to D.C., to the country and to the world — Jeanette belongs here.”Content originally published by the Denver Post on May 12, 2017.