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The Undocumented Mother Fighting to Stay in Her Home of 20 Years

Jeanette Vizguerra is a mother of three and immigration rights activist who was named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People of 2017.
Photo courtesy of Jeanette Vizguerra

You Know Who Rules? is Broadly's December interview series highlighting women and non-binary people who accomplished incredible things during the dumpster fire of a year that was 2017.

Earlier this year, undocumented mother Jeanette Vizguerra spent 86 days seeking refuge in the basement of a Denver church. Despite living and working in the United States for more than 20 years, Vizguerra was fighting a deportation battle with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the risk of being separated from her three American-born children Zury, 6, Roberto, 11, and Luna, 13.


Vizguerra, 45, moved the U.S. from Mexico in 1997, working as a janitor and union organizer, and later owning a moving and cleaning business. But in 2009, she was caught with fake identification that she had acquired in order to work, and has been fighting deportation ever since.

Although well-known in the Denver area as an advocate for immigration rights, Vizguerra attained national recognition this year after deciding to go public with her story. She wrote an essay for The New York Times and was named one of TIME's 100 Most Influential People of 2017. Broadly spoke with the mother and activist about her ongoing efforts to fight for the rights of millions of undocumented immigrants in America.

BROADLY: You lived in the church for 86 days. What was that experience like?
JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: Those were very difficult days as I could only see my children on weekends. The nights without them were the hardest but during the week I did my motherly tasks, such as waking them up for school, over the telephone. I felt very supported by the people from First Unitarian Society of Denver, they made me feel loved and protected. But that didn't stop me from being in confinement. I tried to keep myself busy, organizing and teaching workshops in leadership and immigration rights. I also hosted events to raise funds for my legal costs, or sold tamales or cheesecake. It isn't fair that this broken system forces us to resist in this way.


How did it feel to be named one of TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in
the world?
Proud, because after 20 years of working hard in the community for labor, civil, human
and immigrant rights my contribution was being recognized. It is an example for my
children not to surrender and fight for their dreams and convictions. The recognition will
help me take my voice further to continue fighting for my immigrant community.

What are you campaigning on at the moment?
On Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status
(TPS). And I'm working on sanctuary cases at the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition. I find solutions for the other local and national sanctuary cases and help with many other issues such as driver's licenses.

How has the Trump administration impacted immigrant communities in Colorado?
The impacts are large and strong. It is the worst year with so many attacks, but the
administration has damaged the community in general since it does not only attack
immigrants but also programs that affect all Americans, such as Medicaid, taxes and
internet neutrality.

"It isn't fair that this broken system forces us to resist in this way."

Are people in your community now more cautious, because of Trump?
Yes, of course, we all need to be more careful. As ICE tactics have changed, we also have to change the ways of resisting.

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What are you most proud of this year?
That my people woke up and are resisting, just like me. That the Sanctuary Coalition is leading support for immigrants. And of myself, for not giving up and continuing despite everything—not only to fight for me but for others.

What are you hoping for in 2018?
I hope Congress is now under responsibility to protect everyone, take action that really works, and not play with the lives of the 11 million undocumented people in the US. And that people continue to resist.