“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These few, simple words are meant to embody the American spirit. They are meant to embody the spirit of the American dream. They are meant to be symbolize America’s open borders. They have meaning, even if President Donald Trump wants to ignore them.
For Jeanette Vizguerra, those words meant that she and her family could live in the U.S. in the pursuit of a better life. Now, nearly 20 years after illegally immigrating to the U.S., Vizguerra is being pursued by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to be deported. Like many immigrants, Vizguerra has been severely impacted by the broken immigration system here in the U.S. However, regardless of the difficulties faced by immigrants in the past, the election of Trump has only served to make life that much more difficult.
Since 2009, Vizguerra has become a well-known and influential immigrant rights activist in the Denver community. While fighting for her own right to live in this country, she has become an activist for many other citizens just like herself. She is a partner leader of DMIA Colorado, a nonprofit organization “composed of immigrant mothers and their families fighting for respect; dignity, justice and human rights,” and volunteers for both Aurora Neighborhood Watch Program and Rights for All People.
There have been many cases just like Vizguerra’s, but thanks to her work defending the deportation of many of Colorado’s undocumented citizens, the community has rallied to bring her case national attention. Her case began much like any other. She left Mexico with her husband and young daughter in 1997, traveled to Colorado and laid down roots. She and her husband had three more children after entering the U.S., and her oldest daughter Tania now has children of her own.
Much like any undocumented citizen, Vizguerra was always aware of the fact that any slip up could result in deportation which is why she and her husband lived very low profile lives, working odd jobs and avoiding trouble. This, of course, could not last, and one day in 2009 she was pulled over by a police officer and charged with not having a license or insurance and for having an expired license plate. These charges were later dropped. Following the traffic stop, Vizguerra was charged with possession of a forged document when it was discovered that she applied for a job using a fake Social Security Number.
This set Vizguerra up for seven years of fighting deportation. According to the New York Times, under the Obama administration, undocumented citizens who posed security threats, such as drug dealers and gang members, were of higher priority than immigrants with minor offenses or no other offenses. This policy helped to get many of Vizguerra’s deportation appeals approved.
Not long ago, Vizguerra attempted to appeal another deportation order. According to CNN, this appeal was denied. For fear of being arrested on site, Vizguerra did not go to her regular meeting at the ICE and instead has been seeking refuge in her church, First Unitarian. Vizguerra’s lawyer, Hans Meyer, is trying to help Vizguerra determine her next step, but it seems that there is only one other way to ensure Vizguerra’s right to remain in the U.S., and that is a U-Visa. Even then, Trump’s new deportation policy will make it extremely difficult for Vizguerra to remain in the country.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, a U-Visas are “set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.” Vizguerra has already submitted the documents necessary to obtain this visa, and it seems that Meyer is confident she will be granted this stay.
But like many things associated with the new administration, there is little certainty for the safety and wellbeing of the millions of undocumented citizens in this country. According to the New York Times, unlike Obama’s deportation policy, Trump has issued a statement that the government “no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.” This could mean there is no longer any legal backing that would allow Vizguerra to stay in the country.
Under the Obama Administration, immigration was difficult, but under this Trump administration, it’s nearly impossible. Trump has deemed human beings illegal. He has declared that tax-paying citizens are illegal if they don’t have proper identification. The case of Jeanette Vizguerra shows that regardless of your contribution to American society, if you are not deemed American, you are illegal. Vizguerra has payed taxes for 20 years. She has worked to provide for her family for 20 years. She has been an activist and a mother and a worker, but she is and will likely always be, illegal, and that’s that. Under the Trump administration, the only aspect of Vizguerra that matters is her place of birth and lack of legal documents.
The case of Jeanette Vizguerra is a sad one, but it is important to remember that her case is one of millions now that Trump has taken office. His policies towards undocumented citizens contradict everything that the U.S. is supposed to stand for. For many, his policies mean fear and panic. They mean that no matter your situation, what you left behind or why you had to leave, you are sentenced to a life of lurking around corners and working without job security if you want to remain within these borders. If you get caught, you will be deported, regardless of the life you have built here. This is not living the American dream; this is terror.