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"I Am Her Voice": Meet the 10-Year-Old Boy Helping His Mom Take Refuge from Deportation in a Church

StoryApril 18, 2017
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Two months ago, Jeanette Vizguerra skipped a scheduled check-in with ICE officials and instead sought refuge in the First Unitarian Society church, along with her four children, three of whom are U.S.-born. Democracy Now! recently visited Jeanette and her 10-year-old son, Roberto, at the First Unitarian Society church in Denver.


TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. We go now to Denver, Colorado, where a mother of four is fighting against possible deportation by seeking sanctuary in a church. Jeanette Vizguerra skipped a scheduled check-in with ICE officials and instead sought refuge in the First Unitarian Society church along with her four children, three of whom are U.S.-born. Jeanette came to the U.S. from Mexico in 1997. She’s one of the founders of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition. She’s helped other undocumented immigrants seek sanctuary. She previously won five postponements of deportation, but said on Wednesday she doubts she could win a similar reprieve under the Trump administration.

We interviewed her as soon as she went into the church two months ago. But this weekend, when I went to Denver, I visited Jeanette to follow up on how her stay has been. And I spoke to her as well as her 10-year-old son, Roberto, at the church. I began by asking Roberto why his mother is staying in the church.

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: She’s in the church because there are these people, which are like a group of people named ICE, that she—she wanted to go to one of her, like—[speaking Spanish]

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: Check-in.

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Yeah, on her check-in, she tried to make some papers so she can stay here even longer, and then they denied it. But before she went to the check-in, she decided to come here. And then, one of my mom’s friends, which is a pastor named Ann, went to do the process for her. And Ann said that when she went inside, there were already ICE officials in there, ready to arrest my mom. So when she came in, she just did the papers, and that’s it. And my mom thought that it was a good idea to do that before, because she knew that there might be a problem and she might have gotten arrested. And we visit her sometimes, because we don’t want her to just stay in here and have nothing to do, be lonely. And we just come here so she feels happy to see us still.

AMY GOODMAN: What are you afraid of?

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: That like some ICE person will just pop out and pick her up and take her away.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you consider yourself an activist?

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What does that mean to you?

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Being an activist? It means a lot, because now I know that I’m not only going to be a normal boy, I know that I’m going to be someone that’s going to be helping someone else going through a big problem.

AMY GOODMAN: And what do your friends say to you?

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: They’re like, "I’m really happy that your mom didn’t get tooken by ICE, because if she did, I know you would be really sad." And they support me a lot, because they know what I’m going through. And almost every day there’s someone asking me, "Hey, is your mom still OK?"

AMY GOODMAN: And what do you tell them?

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: She’s fine. Nothing has happened to her. And nothing will happen to her.

AMY GOODMAN: And you know that because?

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Because I know that she’s in a safe place. And it would just be disrespectful if they just broke in here and took my mom. That would give them a bad profile.

AMY GOODMAN: So she can’t go outside, but you go outside for her?

ROBERTO VIZGUERRA: Yes. I am kind of like her voice.

AMY GOODMAN: I am my mother’s voice. That was 10-year-old Roberto, the son of Jeanette Vizguerra. Jeanette is fighting against possible deportation by seeking sanctuary in the Unitarian church in Denver. When I talked to Roberto and Jeanette, they were also sitting with her 6-year-old daughter Zury. I asked Jeanette what her plans were now, now that she’s spent nearly two months in the church.

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yeah, it has been almost two months. I haven’t noticed it has been so long, because I’m very busy. There is no plans going forward. We just need to wait. My lawyer is working really hard on my case, while at the same time I’m exploring some community-oriented strategies, because he is in charge of the legal aspect, and I, as an activist, am in charge of the community aspect. So, I can only wait. I have said that I am a very patient person.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you prepared for ICE to come in at any time?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yes. We have an internal plan here at the church, and not only at this church, also at the church where Ingrid is, who is at the other church in Mountain View. She has been in sanctuary for over three months. Both churches are part of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, and each church has its own emergency plan. I am also prepared. Before coming here, I prepared a family plan in case ICE were to go to my house. Part of the plan with my children was that one of them would be filming, and the other one would be calling people from a list that I gave them. And here, we have a similar plan. So I am prepared, and so are the people here. We hope that Donald Trump will respect these spaces. It would look wrong from a moral standpoint if he came after mothers who are just fighting for their families.

AMY GOODMAN: You are receiving death threats?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: How?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] I have been receiving several hate messages from men and women through Facebook.

AMY GOODMAN: And the police captain came to say he supports you?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] Yes. They have come in person to offer support. They have asked us to keep a record if we see something weird on the street or if people send strong messages of hate against me on social media, because these people will suffer the consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: How can people be supportive to you? What is most helpful to you?

JEANETTE VIZGUERRA: [translated] I feel very grateful, because I have more people supporting me than people hating me, and not only in this country. There are many messages of support coming from my own country, also from many other countries, because my case is now known worldwide.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Jeanette Vizguerra, sitting with two of her children in the church she’s taken sanctuary in, Roberto and Zury. Jeanette is one of the founders of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition, but she herself has taken sanctuary, after Donald Trump became president. To see our full interview with her when she first entered the church two months ago, go to democracynow.org.

Coming up, we’ll speak with the acclaimed Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli about her new book, Tell Me How It Ends. This is about her time working with children in immigration court. Stay with us.

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