U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis on Thursday congratulated Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigrant rights activist who has been living in a Denver church to avoid deportation to Mexico, for her appearance on the TIME 100, the magazine’s annual list of the most influential people in the world.
The Democrats said they hope Vizguerra — “the face of our immigration crisis,” Bennet called her — and other immigrants will benefit from the spotlight on her case.
Actress and activist America Ferrera profiles Vizguerra on the magazine’s list, where she is grouped among the “Icons,” which also include civil rights legend John Lewis, controversial athlete Colin Kaepernick and author Margaret Atwood. Ferrera calls Vizguerra’s story “the American Dream.”
After fleeing violence in Mexico 20 years ago with her then-6-year-old daughter, Vizugerra worked as a janitor and became an advocate for workers and undocumented immigrants. She and her husband eventually had three more children, who are all U.S. citizens. She’s been fighting deportation since 2009, when she was convicted of falsifying documents after a routine traffic stop, but had been allowed to stay in the country through five hearings until February, when immigration officials denied her application to renew the stay. She took sanctuary at the First Unitarian Church in Denver and has vowed to stay there until her immigration case is fully adjudicated, her lawyers say.
“We congratulate Jeanette on her selection as one of the most influential people in the world,” Bennet said in a statement. “Jeanette is the face of our immigration crisis. Under the threat of deportation, she has remained brave and determined to keep her family together. Her fight represents the fear and uncertainty felt by immigrants across the country. Today’s recognition further emphasizes the need for comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system in a way that aligns with our national priorities and values.”
DeGette said she hopes Vizguerra’s inclusion on the list not only brings recognition to her achievements as an activist but also leads to a resolution of her case so she can remain in the United States legally.
“TIME was wise to name Jeannette to its annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world because she leads by example at a time when immigrants are being demonized in this country,” DeGette said in a statement. “Jeanette has been a clarion voice for the rights of others, is widely respected in her community and, during her two decades here, has contributed to civil society in many ways. She should not have to face the threat of deportation. I hope this renewed and higher-profile interest in her situation will help lead to a just resolution.”
Polis introduced what’s known as a private bill in January to provide Vizguerra with a path to permanent residency, and Bennet did the same in the Senate last month. Both bills are awaiting hearings.
“Time Magazine is acknowledging what we all know to be true — Jeanette Vizguerra represents thousands of immigrants who, like her, have built a life here and who have given back to their communities over the years,” Polis said in a statement. “Sadly, Jeanette is also an example of how our immigration policies have utterly failed, forcing a mother of three American children to hide out in the basement of a church, instead of working to support her family. I think we could all agree, Jeanette and others like her are not the people ICE should be targeting. They are the exceptional immigrants who motivate me in the fight for immigration reform.”
In a statement released by the Denver-based Meyer Law Office, PC, her legal representatives, Vizguerra said she was honored to be included “with such a stellar constellation of individuals.”
“This recognition is a result of my eight years of struggle against my own deportation,” Vizguerra said, “and an acknowledgement of my 20 years of contributing to the economy of this country as an immigrant: even here in sanctuary, this week I made sure to file my taxes. Above all, I hope this recognition serves as an example of my love and dedication to my children Tania, Luna, Roberto and Zury.”