As Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cracks down on undocumented immigrants, churches around the country are opening their doors to immigrants seeking refuge.
One such immigrant is Jeanette Vizguerra of Denver, Colorado, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1997. She is being targeted by ICE for deportation because she has two misdemeanor violations on her record.
According to Vizguerra, she was arrested for driving without a driver’s license and vehicle registration. Officers also discovered a forged identification document that had a social security number on it that she had created from the numbers in her birthdate.
ICE spokesman Shawn Neudauer confirmed Vizguerra was an “enforcement priority” due to her previous misdemeanors.
She requested a stay from immigration in December because she is waiting to be approved for a U Visa since she is a victim of domestic abuse, but she was denied. Instead of going to her hearing Wednesday, Vizguerra sent her attorney, Hans Meyer, as she took refuge at a church several miles from the hearing.
After receiving the news that she would not be granted a stay, a crying Vizguerra spoke to the approximately 100 protesters gathered outside of her hearing over the phone and said in Spanish, “This is not the end… This is just a step in a long, long journey.”
Vizguerra has set up a makeshift home in the basement of the First Unitarian Society of Denver, where she will stay indefinitely.
Sanctuary churches are popping up all over the country because, in the past, ICE was instructed not to go into sensitive areas such as schools, churches and hospitals. The churches were able to provide anyone who had taken refuge there a safe space as long as they resided within the confines of the church.
As President Trump has ramped up his rhetoric against undocumented immigrants, the number of churches providing sanctuary has skyrocketed. According to the Washington Post, in 2014, there were approximately 250 churches that opened their doors to undocumented immigrants. By November 2016, that number had jumped to approximately 800 churches.
The question now is will ICE, under the Trump administration, allow churches to continue providing sanctuary?