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Undocumented immigrant seeking sanctuary in Denver church hasn’t been outside in 2 months

DENVER -- For the past two months, Jeanette Vizguerra has been living inside of a Denver church, unable to go outside for fear of deportation.

She moved into the basement at First Unitarian Church in February after immigration officials denied her request to stay in the United States. She is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. The church is acting as a sanctuary from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Yesterday is my anniversary. Two months. Two months living in this church,” she said.

Vizguerra said it is a somewhat “happy” anniversary.

“The people are very friendly. Very lovely,” she said. "They came up with a plan of emergency if for whatever reason ICE were to come.”

Vizguerra has been in the United States for 20 years. She was arrested and plead guilty in 2009 for attempted possession of a forged instrument. According to her lawyer, she was caught using a fake Social Security number on a job application.

In 2012, she chose to return to Mexico to see her dying mother and was caught illegally entering back into the United States. She has been on ICE radar ever since.

Now, she risks deportation if she leaves First Unitarian Church at 1400 N. Lafayette St. So she must remain inside its walls at all times.

“I need to fight for and defend what I think is right and just. And the right thing to do is to be with my kids,” she said.

Vizguerra has four children who were born in the U.S. The youngest is 6 years old. She also has three grandchildren from her oldest daughter, who is allowed to stay in the country under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

“They are my life. And if I’m not with them then my life has no purpose,” she said.

Her family comes to visit her at the church three times per week. Vizguerra said being a mom living in sanctuary is tough.

“Nights when I’m alone that my kids aren’t with me is the most difficult part,” she said. “My little Curi would always sleep with me isn’t here so I can’t hug her. And to see the best of my other kids empty, this is the hardest part, that part people don’t get.”

The other hard part, she said, is seeing the news of other undocumented immigrants being taken away.

Last week, Maria De Jesus Sanchez, a mother from Aurora, wasn’t able to find sanctuary at any local churches, including First United. She was taken by ICE on Wednesday and will likely be deported to Mexico this week.

“All the memories rush to me. I have been in that situations three times. I’ve been in the same spot she was in now,” Vizguerra said.

She said she feels powerless because she can’t leave the church to go help people like De Jesus Sanchez. But she plans to stay.

“If I was out, I would be able to do more things than just being here. That is the hardest part of not being able to be outside,” she said. "How could I not go on? I have a great responsibility.”

Vizguerra spends her days working as an activist, fighting for the rights of undocumented people and helping them with immigration issues.

As far as what is next for her, she doesn’t know.

“Right now, there isn’t a next step,” she said. “So I can only wait. Only wait. I don’t know how long. One month? Probably longer. But emotionally, mentally, I’m prepared to be here all four years of (Donald) Trump’s presidency.”