(Reuters) — A Mexican mother of four who moved into a Denver church three months ago to dodge deportation left her sanctuary on Friday because immigration officials promised she could remain in the United States for two years.
Jeanette Vizguerra, who came to the United States 20 years ago without authorization and worked as janitor before owning a moving company, was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people of 2017 last month after she sought refuge at a church. She also has been an advocate for immigrants.
“It’s a special day for me because I will be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my children and my grandchildren,” Vizguerra, 45, said in Spanish at a news conference after leaving the First Baptist Church.
Three of Vizguerra’s children were born in the United States. Her oldest daughter, a Mexican national, is an adult who lives in the United States with a work permit under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal program for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children.
U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado introduced legislation in March seeking to shield Vizguerra from deportation. It was a so-called “private bill” applying only to her and not to immigrants in general.
The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Thomas Homan, notified Congress last week his agency would stop granting stays of deportation in response to lawmakers’ private bills. Instead, the agency would only honor such requests from certain key congressional committee leaders.
Thirty immigrants named in private bills before ICE’s revised policy went into effect on May 5 were “grandfathered” in, including Vizguerra, who received a stay of deportation until March 15, 2019, ICE said in a statement.
Vizguerra received five previous stays because she was the victim of an unspecified violent crime and has a pending visa application, according to the law firm representing her.
She was convicted of two misdemeanors: using falsified documents and illegally re-entering the United States after her mother’s funeral in Mexico.
Immigration officials rejected Vizguerra’s request for a stay of deportation on Feb. 15; that day, she moved into First Unitarian Society church. When it underwent renovation, supporters shuttled her to First Baptist.
U.S. Rep. Jared Polis in a statement said he was grateful Vizguerra will be “afforded more time in the U.S.” but he criticized ICE for scaling back its compliance with private bills on behalf of individual immigrants.