Written by Connie Larkman
An undocumented immigrant and community activist now in sanctuary in a Denver church has been named one of the Time 100: most influential people of 2017.
Jeanette Vizguerra is a grandmother and mother of four who has been fighting to stay in the U.S. since being arrested for a traffic violation in 2009. In February, facing deportation, she chose to publicly decide to take sanctuary at the First Unitarian Society in Denver instead of returning to Mexico with her elementary school age children who were born in this country.
Vizguerra, a long-time advocate for immigrant rights, said she didn't believe it at first when she was told she was on the list, but that this honor, this public affirmation of her effort to stay in the U.S. is important.
"This acknowledgement [by Time] really means a lot, it means a great deal, not just to me but to the other Jeanette Vizguerras out there, to the other 11 million undocumented people who are fighting for rights in this country right now," Vizgueurra said. "It also has meaning for my own fight for 20 years. It says people are paying attention to my struggles. It means a lot."
The Rev. Anne Dunlap, a UCC minister who met Vizguerra when she began her battle to stay in this country several years ago, is her pastor.
"I'm very proud of this recognition of Jeanette's leadership and long fight for justice not only for herself but for all immigrants," said Dunlap. "I may be her pastor, but she is my leader, and I have learned so much from her about the power of a community organizing together for liberation."
Vizguerra, one of the public faces of the sanctuary movement, is very aware of the growing number of churches supporting sanctuary for immigrants. She hopes more spiritual communities who say they welcome the stranger will put their faith into action.
"Now is the time to be taking action. We don't have time to go to protocols and processes and future decision-making. Many, many people are seeking sanctuary right now," Vizguerra said. "We need churches to make the decision to open their doors to the people who need this right now. It's not enough to say ‘oh I want to help.' We need churches not just to say the words, but to take action."