With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

California Water Polo Weekend

California is the other state in my life, an unrequited love that tugs at my heart strings each time I visit despite overcrowding, traffic, cost of living, and occasional taxpayer revolts. Colorado has mountainous beauty, passionate outdoorspeople, slightly more affordable housing and a Western vibe, but my children were born in the other C state, and family members have recently purchased homes in a beautiful area. Those advantages, plus an ocean coast, threaten to upset my apple cart when I visit, particularly when the winter rains have turned all of the foothills New Zealand green.

Last weekend William and I flew out to the "Tri-Valley Area" of northern California (San Ramon, Pleasanton/Dublin and Danville regions) for an Olympic Development Program water polo tournament. William was fortunate to be selected for the Mountain Zone team along with several of his Colorado Water Polo teammates, and they were joined by great young men from Boulder and the state of Utah.

The boys played against multi-state zones from the Midwest, Great Lakes and Atlantic Coast regions, as well as a Southeast region that had a lot of Texas players. They won all three games on Saturday, and William and I were especially thrilled that my parents, two brothers and their families were able to drive down from Petaluma/Rohnert Park to watch one of the games. It was a unique thrill to explain the game of water polo to my passionately sports-oriented nephew, Mac, and hear my mom urge the scorekeepers to add the proper number of goals to the Moutain Zone tally.

After a fun lunch at my brothers' old haunt in Danville, where we sat on the patio (with heat lamps - a chilly weekend), my parents headed home while the boys revisited old high school haunts and were hailed by old friends driving down the main drag. I went back to water polo at Dougherty Valley HS, a ten-year-old facility with a gorgeous campus, surrounded by new developments and green hilltops that were formerly dirt roads, water towers and cow-grazing pastures.

I wondered where California got the money to build a new school, since taxpayers voted decades ago to restrict the amount of taxes that go to public schools (a major strike against moving back.) As I restlessly walked the grounds between games part of my question was answered by a school advertisement for a "Diamonds and Denim" fundraiser, tickets going for $700 / table.

Flocks of red-winged blackbirds cheered me on from the bleachers as I paced around the track. Pee-wee football overran the infield and suited-up students flocked to the main buildings for a debate or spelling bee. A teacher / coach chatted with me as we paused to take in the scene and confessed that though he and his wife both taught at the high school, they could not afford to live near it. Affordable housing was about 25 miles north, in a poor school district.

With Colorado looking better all the time, I was recalled to my post by shrill whistles from the water polo games. The team concluded its first four games with a 4-0 record. The final game on Sunday was difficult and William played only a few minutes as the big, strong boys from Central California played tight defense and strong offense from the center. We lost the game by a narrow margin and William came away with new friends, a respect for his coach, greater knowledge of the game and awareness of where he needs to work. I could not ask for a better weekend, though I am grateful to be back home. My love affair with California will have to sit on the back burner until our next trip.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Privileged

I went to visit my friend Ingrid at a Quaker meeting house this morning. Ingrid is not a Quaker, but the community of Friends has offered her sanctuary at their meeting house, now her home. Born in Peru, Ingrid came to the United States as a teenager in search of work and further education. She lives in sanctuary because ICE has threatened her with deportation due to her lack of documents and a misdemeanor offense (not paying taxes) from a decade ago. Ingrid made reparations on her offense and has paid taxes these past eleven years (something our chief executive has not done), but our government will not  forget her offense, and so she lives in a church with her one-year-old son, cut off from her partner and her eight-year-old son, who current lives closer to his school.

When we sat down in the rainbow-colored play area of the church basement, Ingrid asked how I was, and about my plans for the coming weekend. I eagerly explained that William and I plan to fly out tomorrow for Northern California for his water polo tournament. Adding that I would get to see family members, I started listing them, "I'll see my parents, two brothers and their wives, four nephews and my little niece." With every sentence, my awareness of my privilege and my discomfort grew. When I grumbled a little about the weather in California, I mortified myself into silence.

Ingrid hasn't seen her parents or siblings in sixteen years. She cannot even see her older son on a regular basis, cannot step out of the church for fear of being deported before her May court date. The loss of her income hurts the family and the lawyer's fees mount. As I rambled on about water polo, plane flights, family members, dollar signs lined up in my mind's eye like a bizzaro world fence that divided me from Ingrid. My stomach, my guilt-o-meter, started to churn.

I was born white to highly educated parents, educated at excellent public schools and graduated from college without student debt. The old metaphor of being born on third base and strolling to home seems apt. I'm keenly aware that my privilege is not earned, that my exceptional luck at being born to Ann and Jules Clavadetscher of Pompton Plains, NJ, USA, was not of my doing.

What can I do with my privilege to help those who were not so lucky?  I can help with Ingrid's lawyer bills (see Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition if that interests you, dear reader), visit, bring food, play with the baby, and pray. I can make calls, write stories, share my experiences. It does not feel like enough.  When I read the administration's new guidelines for immigrants I think, why make innocent people a target? Why separate mothers from their small children? Who is going to do the jobs that they do - clean the buildings, harvest the crops, wash the dishes, paint and construct new homes? Perhaps that should be our penance. If our country sends home our undocumented neighbors, we must fill the jobs that they have done for many years. We must look after the motherless children, pay reparations for the destruction of families, and apologize for the cost that others pay for our privilege.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Questions of Legality

Though I haven't received questions about Jeanette's situation on the blog, I often hear questions about her legal status, and why she should be allowed to stay in the country when she came (twenty years ago) without documents.  Here are a few questions and answers on the subject:


Why doesn't Jeanette apply for legal status?
 A person who is in the country undocumented cannot apply for citizenship. She would have to return Mexico and apply for a visa of some sort. That process, if she was successful, would probably take 10 years or more. (It is unlikely that her application for a visa would be approved, because she spent time in the US without documents.) During that time, she would be separated from her family. This is one of things that we are pushing for in comprehensive immigration reform that those who have lived here for some period of time such as Jeanette, and are established and contributing to their communities, etc have a “pathway to citizenship” without having to return to their country of origin and having it take 10+ years just to get back into the US.

Did Jeanette have children here to provide 'anchor babies' that would allow her to stay?
 Her US citizen children cannot sponsor her for citizenship until they turn 21. But even then, she would have to return to Mexico and the wait would again be in the order of 10 years or more.
There are four different types of sponsors. If you're from Mexico priority dates are still in the 1990's for visa processing.

Why didn't Jeanette apply for a visa to come to the United States legally in the 1990s?
There are few visas available for people from Mexico and Central America. Per the question above, if Jeanette and her husband had applied in the late 1990s, they would still be waiting for their visa. Since Salvador's life was in danger, they could not wait. 

What about Jeanette's misdemeanors of driving with expired tags and without a license (2009)?
In 2009 it was not yet possible for undocumented persons to obtain a drivers license. (Though it is possible now, the CO state government has cut off money to the drivers license program for immigrants and few are able to obtain a license). Jeanette was working three jobs to support her family and pay for Salvador's treatment for cancer. The job, and driving, were necessities to support her family. She did plead guilty to the misdemeanors and made reparations. Any further recriminations on the eight-year-old charge would be double jeopardy.

Please feel free to ask if other questions arise - either on the blog or via email.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Jeanette Vizguerra, part 3 of 3

Continued from Jeanette Vizguerra Takes Sanctuary (part 1) and part 2.
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After several weeks, the guards moved Jeanette out of solitary and into the larger group of females. There were nearly eighty women detained, and Jeanette quickly assumed the roles of organizer and helper, assisting women with their requests to lower bond amounts, translate documents, find legal support.
“I was able to talk with the women in detention, and they told me all about their cases. I helped when I could, because it kept my mind off of my family and my community back in Denver. I was able to call home more once I was out of isolation, but I was getting close to my deportation date – August 2013. I was in the CCA detention for four months, trying so hard to get back to my children.”
In between helping the other women with their cases, Jeanette filled out document after document to explain her situation, why she was pulled over, why she had forged documents, and especially why she left the country to see her dying mother. Her departure and re-entry placed Jeanette in the category of persons considered “high priority” for removal. This category includes persons convicted of crimes and felony border crossing (re-entry after forced removal).
“I was always reminding them,” noted Jeanette, wrinkling her nose as the smell of burning leaves wafted by. “Always explaining why I left the country, why I deserved to come back. My communities back in Denver were helping me, too, contacting Congress people and ICE officials on my behalf. My faith groups, my social groups, school and church communities, they all wrote to the ICE officials in Texas and asked for a stay of removal.”
Before the date of her deportation, Jeanette’s lawyer called.
“He said, de pronto algo cambio, no lo puedo creer! (All of a sudden something changed, you are not going to believe it!). If you believe in God, give thanks to him. You can stay!”
Jeanette smiled at the memory as the wind whisked hair in her face. She removed strands thoughtfully as she added, “I couldn’t believe that I would get to see my children, could put my arms around them.”
 “Several things happened. First, the press knew all about my case, from Denver to Washington to Venezuela. All eyes were on the ICE official in Texas, the one in charge at the detention center. Also, many people had written to this man, asking him to help me. All of the women in detention with me had signed a petition begging for mercy in my case.”
 “Initially, the ICE official was suspicious. He said, ‘who’s been organizing all of the women to do this? Organizing is not allowed in here!”  I told him that I didn’t know anything about the letter – because I didn’t – but that I was an activista, after all.” Jeanette shrugged her shoulders and smiled while the other women chuckled.
Brenda added, “The women were grateful because she had helped all of them with their cases. Now they wanted to help her.”
“The last thing that made a difference was that the ICE official read about my story and he said that it touched his heart. I didn’t know whether to believe him or not, I was a bit suspicious when I heard that. But when I saw him in the office he told me, ‘You have suffered enough.’ He had tears in his eyes, and emotion on his face. He even gave me a big hug when he said I could go.”
A corner of Jeanette’s mouth turned up at my doubtful expression. “The local ICE officials have a lot of control. You wouldn’t think that they could make decisions like that, but they can. Everything depends on the person in charge.”
ICE officials temporarily released Jeanette and allowed her to return to Denver in June, 2013. After an emotional reunion with her family, she was able to spend a few weeks getting back to her normal routine, taking her children to school, helping with their homework, participating in her communities.
After six weeks, Jeanette went to her first supervisory check-in with ICE and was unexpectedly taken into custody again, in front of her children. The kids wept and shouted as she was led away by an official who had decided to override the Texas release.
“I was so angry they did this in front of my kids – so angry!” Jeanette clenched her fist. “Ever since I was taken the first time my children have to go to a psychologist each month. They suffer always, afraid that I will be taken away – to never come back.”
Children of undocumented parents are more likely to suffer extreme stress and anxiety, including PTSD. Jeanette’s son, Roberto, talks about his trauma in a PSA cameo “every day when I wait for my mom to pick me up from school, I get scared she won’t be able to come.”
Desperate to return home, Jeanette applied for a discretionary stay of removal. Her request was denied at first, but after her supporters moved into action with a surge of phone calls, rallies, and protests in front of ICE administrative offices, ICE approved the stay and released her on August 8, 2013.
As of fall, 2017, Jeanette has been granted four consecutive stays of removal.  As each grace period winds down, Jeanette and her legal team have to reapply for a stay, adding to their eight hundred pages of supporting documentation. Each time the grace period lapses, Jeanette’s children worry again about losing their mom. Jeanette appears troubled yet resigned over her next appeal.
“My most recent stay of removal ends in February of 2017, and all the paperwork is due in January. It will be different this time, because the request goes to a different department. I was allowed to apply for a U visa, so the paperwork goes somewhere new.”
The U visa is granted to persons who are victims of certain crimes here in the United States, who have suffered mental or physical abuse as a result of the crimes, and who help law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. Such crimes include: blackmail, domestic violence, extortion and rape. Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa during the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act in October 2000. According to the US CIS government website, “the legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes” (USCIS website, n.d.).
 In simple terms, the legislation was created to help victims who would otherwise never come forward about their crimes because they could be punished with deportation or imprisonment. People without legal status in the United States are often at great risk of abuses, including injury or nonpayment on the job, because they have little recourse.
Jeanette was a victim of crime under investigation, so she couldn’t discuss it, except to say that she was assisting the police, and that she was allowed to petition for the U visa. Now her petition for a stay of removal is tied with her application for the visa, and the process takes on a new shape.
La lucha sigue. The fight continues,” said Jeanette. “I am so fortunate to have a team of good people working on my case, including my lawyer. Not everyone is so lucky.”

Jeanette continues to fight on behalf of all persons in detention. She helped to create a Denver branch of the Sanctuary movement, which resulted in a local church successfully harboring Arturo Hernandez Garcia for nine months until ICE informed him that he was no longer a priority for deportation. Arturo and his wife have two daughters who are citizens. Though Arturo is now free, they are kept in limbo while his case remains pending.
Jeanette originally kept her involvement in Arturo’s case a secret, because she feared recriminations, but recently she has been open about participating in the Sanctuary movement. She was invited to a national meeting of Sanctuary leaders in Arizona and spoke before representatives from all over the country.
I asked if I should keep her participation in Sanctuary off the record.
“No. In this chapter of my life, I want my work to be recognized. I continue my work with American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Centro Humanitario (assisting day laborers with finding good work and getting paid fair wages), Colorado Immigrant Rights Coaltion (CIRC), Rights for All People (now Derechos Para Todos), Black Lives Matter, and the Community of Native Americans. I can’t say no to requests for help. No puedo decirno,” she added.
“Do you volunteer full-time now?”
 “Oh no, I still work full-time, cleaning buildings. But I volunteer at night and on weekends. I visit schools and universities very often, and go to a different church on many Sundays.” She listed some of her contacts at Denver-area universities including Denver University, Regis University and the University of Colorado. Jeanette also calls in to a radio program each Monday and speaks via telephone. The program is called “Un dia sin fronteras, or ‘one day without borders.’
At this point, Brenda’s young daughters emerged from their car, peering at the sky suspiciously. Assured that the rain clouds had passed, the girls approached us and pulled gently on Brenda’s arms, begging her to go home.  As she saw signs of the conversation ending, Zury also came back to the circle and laid a small, possessive hand on Jeanette’s shoulder.  Jeanette smiled and Brenda shrugged into her jacket as she translated Jeanette’s closing words.
“Never lose your faith. Never give up - you’ll never know what you could have done. I have been fighting for seven years to stay with my children, and I will not stop.”

Afterword

On February 15, 2017, Jeanette’s stay of deportation was denied. The courtroom was full of armed ICE officials when the verdict was read to a crowd of Jeanette’s friends and supporters. Jeanette herself was not at the hearing. She listened to her instinct and went into sanctuary at a UCC church in Denver, the first person to resist deportation under President Trump’s new orders. Her future, and the future of her family, is uncertain.

Jeanette Vizguerra, part 2 of 3

Continued from my earlier post, Jeanette Vizguerra Takes Sanctuary. Jeanette and I continue to discuss her experience.
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 “How did you get to be so strong?  You survived three stays in detention - away from your children - and came out tough, a leader.”
“Well, I made it through detention… but I’m not done yet. Eight years of struggle against deportation and I’m still fighting. I guess I am similar to my mother she was very strongmuy fuerte. She was a fighter, and gave me a foundation of righteousness, honesty and the ability to face difficulties. Mamí was from Jalisco, and Papa from Guanajuato. They both traveled from the rural areas to Mexico City to find work.”
 “I grew up in Mexico City. It was very dangerous, with lots of violence. I saw many injustices, especially to the indigenous peoples (los Indios) who came to the city from their small villages. We had a law of survival, those of us in the poor areas. We had to look out for each other or no one would make it. But this did not include los indios. People looked down on them, refused to help. Once I saw a little Indian girl die on the streets near my house. The family held her little body while they cried. Her illness, her death, they were preventable, but she had no money or medical attention. I thought to myself, that’s not right.”
The injustice and cruelty deeply troubled Jeanette. She recognized that the indigenous people were just looking for work to feed their families and saw the parallels between these migrants and her parents, who had also come to the city to find work and stability.
I asked Jeanette where her strong moral stance came from. Did her parents go to church? Were they devout Catholics?
 “My parents were Catholic, but not devout. I don’t identify with any one church, and I don’t go to church all of the time. I do pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe, she’s my strength, and I believe that God is in everything and in everyone. All the churches, the UCC, Quaker, Catholic, they all believe in the same God.”
“Did you find moral authorities in teachers?”
“I went to a public school in the city. One teacher I remember, it was in what you would call middle school. He talked about the need for justice and said that we should fight against injustice whenever we find it. I remember him very well.”
In contrast, my protected childhood yields middle school memories of astronomy and social studies, no nuggets of social justice or racial awareness. Big hair, 1980’s neon, and unpopularity were the biggest problems at my school.
“Jeanette, do you have a favorite memory from growing up? Anything that makes you smile?”
She paused, dropping her eyes momentarily to her youngest daughter, who had emerged from the house with a purple bunny in tow. Zury waved the stuffed animal at me and flashed a dimple as she explained she had bought it from the yard sale. Jeanette pressed her hand firmly against the small of the little girl’s back and shrugged.
“I don’t remember any one place or event, just that I always had lots of plans, many projects and visions for what I wanted to do. Many things were going through my head. Not centered on me or what I could do on my own account, but about other people and what I could do for them. That included my family, too.”
“So you always felt like you wanted to help people?”
“Oh, yes. I wanted to fight for the important things, change what was wrong or what upset me. Helping other people makes me happy.”
Zury’s antics with the purple bunny elicited a smile from Jeanette. A gust of wind caught the girl’s long hair and flipped it up in a fluid pinwheel.
“We had to leave my parents and siblings when my oldest daughter was about Zury’s age.  It was a difficult time. We didn’t need more money, because we both had jobs, but we wanted security for our family. Salvador, my husband, he drove a bus, and he was held up three times at gunpoint. It was terrifying.”
“Were you ever on the bus when that happened?”
“Yes, one of the times. Usually it was a group of three men who got on the bus together, one would go to the back, one to the middle, and one stayed up front and put a gun to the driver’s head. When the driver stopped the bus and held up his hands, the other two robbers moved through all of the passengers and asked for their money, watches, jewelry, anything they had. If they got all they wanted, they would get off the bus without using the gun. After this happened three times to my husband, his good friend (also a bus driver) was shot and killed. That was when Salvador and I decided to go. We were already frightened, but after the murder of Salvador’s friend we feared for our lives.”
I had heard this expression several times in recent weeks when I visited other women in detention, one from El Salvador and one from Honduras. They told me, “Tiene miedo de mi vida,” which means “I am afraid for my life.” The women’s expressions were characterized by downcast eyes, mouths pressed to a straight line, fingers tapping nervously. After they confessed their worry they would stare defiantly, daring me to lower their evaluation of the danger.
As if she read my mind, Brenda translated a second time, “She wants you to know that they had enough money to live, but came for security. They wanted a safe life for their daughter and the children still to come.”
“When you made plans to come, did you try to get documents, visas?”
All of the women laughed. One named America broke in impatiently, “There are no visas or work permits from Mexico. Not since maybe 1986. If you are Mexican there is no way to get permission to come to the United States, not unless you are with big business and have lots of money.”
Jeanette nodded affirmation. “There were no papers for us. We couldn’t wait twenty, thirty years to see if the rules changed. We would have died long before then.”
“How did you cross the border?”
“We left before Christmas in 1997. I told Salvador that I wanted to be in the United States by the 24th, Christmas Eve. So we contacted some friends of his that lived in the States. I was both happy and sad to leave Mexico City. Happy that my little family was safe and together, but sad that we were leaving parents and siblings. We had no idea when we would see them again. Also we had no presents for our daughter, had nothing.”
Jeanette described the hazardous border crossing with Salvador’s friend from Guatemala and his wife, a U.S. citizen. The American couple crossed into Mexico and then walked back through the border crossing with Jeanette’s daughter, who “passed” as their own. Jeanette noted that her oldest was fair and blended more easily with Americans.
 After Salvador and Jeanette saw that their daughter was safely across the border, they came by different routes. Salvador made it to the meet-up point with his friends, but Jeanette was caught by Border Patrol and deported to another border town after midnight. Border Patrol often deports immigrants in the middle of the night, where they immediately became prey for robbers and bandits in the border towns. Terrified of the unfamiliar dark streets, Jeanette searched for a church where she could shelter.
Evading a group of men who went after her backpack, she ran through the town until she found a sanctuary church, una iglesia. After communicating with Salvador and their friends, she hid in the trunk of a car and successfully crossed into the United States to join her husband and daughter. Salvador had promised to be in America by the 24th, and they did, in fact, arrive on Christmas Eve, 1997. The trio headed to Denver to join Salvador’s extended family, aunts and uncles and cousins.
Jeanette rocked back and forth in her chair as she recalled the early days in Denver. As she searched for the right words, raindrops scattered across our group, threatening clothes and refreshments. We hurried once again to batten down the yard sale, and I looked to Jeanette to see if we should move inside.
“No, no,” she said. “It’s not supposed to rain today. I think it will blow over.”
I asked if optimism had helped her to start a new life in this country.
“No,” she said slowly, “it was very difficult. I didn’t know anyone here, and didn’t speak any English. Actually – not many people know this – but I struggled with anxiety and depression. It’s hard for me, but then it’s always hard at the beginning.”
Jeanette smiled wryly. “I keep busy to stop my mind going off in those dark directions. I decided that if I needed help, other people must need help, too. When I looked around I found that others were much worse off than me.”
“Whenever I start to complain about something, I realize that I just need to fix it. I tell other people to do the same.” Her friends nodded in agreement, as if they had been caught up in many of Jeanette’s fixes.
“We have no idea how Jeanette has energy to do all the work she does,” said Brenda.
“I don’t know how I do it, either,” laughed Jeanette. “In the beginning I kept reminding myself that we were creating a better life for our family, just like my parents did when they left the countryside for Mexico City.”
Jeanette started work in the U.S. as a janitor, cleaning office buildings. She joined a union, the SEIU Local 105, and became an organizer and leader for that group. In 2003 she started the group Derechos Humanos / Rights for All People, in part to begin a dialogue between the immigrant community and the police. She and Salvador had three more children: Luna, Roberto, and Zury, and Jeanette volunteered at the children’s schools in addition to maintaining her other work and volunteer schedules. She tried to pick the children up after school every day despite her full-time job and volunteer obligations.
Intrigued by her work at Derechos Humanos, I asked how she felt about police after she was stopped for driving with expired plates. Jeanette’s difficult journey with law enforcement and ICE began with that stop in 2009, after she was pulled over by a police officer on a busy street in the suburban community of Parker.
 “I understand they have a job to do. What I do not like is the law that lets local police act like ICE officers, ask if people are legal.  When I was pulled over, the policeman did not say I was speeding, had expired plates, a taillight out, anything. His first question to me was ‘Are you legal or illegal?”
 “I couldn’t believe he stopped me to ask that. I was angry and felt so powerless. When I finally got home, I cried and cried.”
Jeanette was arrested for driving without a license. Immigrants without papers could not obtain a driver’s license in Colorado at that time, so they were forced to drive without one. (It’s still difficult for men and women without documents to obtain a license).  Jeanette was also charged with possession of the false documents that she planned to use while applying for yet another job. Her husband was fighting cancer, and the economic recession of the early 2000s forced her to take extra jobs to support the family.
To avoid more serious felony charges of identity theft, Jeanette pled guilty to a misdemeanor crime: possession of forged documents. She spent twenty-three days in jail. Her crime was reported to ICE by the Arapahoe County police, and ICE started deportation proceedings (what the government calls a process of removal) against her.
“Immigration problems were happening in Denver at that time in 2009,” said Jeanette, “but no one was talking about them. Deportations, detention, police harassment, etc. – all that was going on, but people were scared and ashamed. I was the first one to talk about it publicly, to raise awareness of the issues.”
The other women nodded. Brenda said sadly, “My husband was fighting to stay in the country then, too, but we didn’t know how to find help.”
Brenda’s two daughters, aged twelve and eight, ran back and forth between her and their car. I knew the girls were touching base to see when they could leave, and I protested that she didn’t have to stay, I could muddle through on my own. Brenda smiled and shook her head. “They’re fine. The younger one has just had some problems with her dad leaving, so they’re clingy with me. They don’t understand why he had to go away.”
“That’s what I’m saying,” said Jeanette. “People suffer in silence, and no one understands what happens, except maybe other people of color. When I started to talk openly with all of the groups I belong to, I became the face and voice of arrests, deportation, detention. Other people in trouble latched on to me because they felt similar pain.”
Jeanette noted the problems with how police enforce the laws, problems with racism. She said the struggles of black Americans are more in the media right now, but Latinos share many of the same difficulties. Profiling is so endemic that she was put in detention along with U.S. citizens who had been pulled over for “driving Latino.” Jeanette continues to work with the police to help fix the errors in the system. I told them about my youngest, Guatemalan-born son and how I fear that he will need to drive with his citizenship card and U.S. Passport in the glove compartment. All of the women nodded somberly.
“Unless things change, he will.”

In 2012, after Jeanette’s deportation case ended in appeal, she received a phone call from Mexico City. Her mother, Maria, was dying of terminal cancer. Though Jeanette had not seen her mother in sixteen years, they spoke at least once a week on the phone, and were very close. Her mother’s strength had shaped Jeanette’s love of family, her passion for social justice, and her ambition to create a better life.
“It was one of the most difficult moments of my life. I had so many feelings and emotions, including anger at the system. There were no exceptions for humanitarian reasons. I could not possibly leave the country legally to see my mother and I knew that leaving would hurt my case with the Board of Immigration Appeals.  My head said to me, ‘Don’t go, don’t leave your three young ones with their dad – he has to work and can’t take care of them.’ My littlest daughter was a one-year-old. I could not bear to think of leaving her . . . but my heart said, ‘me obligo de ir’ – I had to go.’”
I repeated after Jeanette the Spanish phrase, “El corazón dice sí, mi mente dice no. My heart said yes, my mind said no.”
Tears formed and slipped to her lower lashes. “I do not regret my decision, even though Mamí died while I was on the plane. No me repiento.”
The consequences of her flight were immediate and severe. After burying her mother, Jeanette was isolated in Mexico City with her elderly father. She had no legal means of returning to the United States and no money. Her family in Denver could not spare cash for a trip back to the United States so Jeanette had to support herself and her father. She ran into a serious obstacle while searching for work in Mexico City.
“There is a kind of unwritten rule that no one will hire you unless you are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. I was forty at the time, and every time I told them my age, they said No. No jobs. I said, “What can a woman of eighteen do that I can’t do? I have experience!” but they never changed. It was injustice and discrimination all over again.”
 “Those seven months were sad for me. I was scared and depressed. There was no way to get money for a trip home – Salvador could not send any because he was paying an extra thirty dollars a day for child care. Each time I called home the children would cry. They were not doing well. The baby, especially, had no concept of time. She would say to me, ‘Mañana tu vas a regresar?’ Tomorrow you going to come home?”
Jeanette started crying for real now. Her prior troubles and tribulations were nothing compared to this separation from her children, this despair. “I was afraid to cross the border by myself. It was so hard the first time, and had grown even more difficult. La frontera, the border, was crawling with drug-runners, thieves, kidnappers, extortionists and rapists. They would think I had money because I was trying to cross, because I must have family in the U.S.”
Jeanette found the separation from her children too much to bear and decided to risk the difficult journey back to Denver. She identified a coyote and a group planning to cross to the U.S. They walked for seven days and nights to get to the border between Mexico and Texas. Her voice faltered as she recalled the cold, the hunger, the feel of the stones through the flapping soles of her thin shoes, her feet bleeding. As we talked, Jeanette paused to look at the sky, where clouds had dispersed and late afternoon blue shone through. A fingernail moon glimmered faintly overhead. She pointed up at it.
“The only thing that kept me going was seeing the moon at night. The glow of the moon and stars was the only light we had, and I would look at the moon and think ‘Luna,’ which is the Spanish word for moon and also my daughter’s name. The thought of my daughter – all my children – it was the only thing that kept me going.”
Her voice cracked, and she paused to balance on the chair and wipe her face with a paper cocktail napkin. The chill breeze and smells of early fall in Colorado recalled us to this place and time, so far from the hot desert springtime near Presidio, Texas, where Jeanette crossed.
“I prayed to the spirit of my mother and to the Virgin of Guadalupe, prayed constantly for help.”

Jeanette arrived safely in the United States but was promptly arrested by the Border Patrol and placed in detention near El Paso in the spring of 2013. She was not deported right away, but ICE was quickly apprised of her case and her appeal was dismissed. The ICE officers in El Paso placed Jeanette in isolation at the detention center there. She had no contact with her family or community, only weekly phone calls from her lawyer. Jeanette was geographically closer to her family, but they seemed more remote than ever. 

Jeanette Vizguerra Takes Sanctuary

I first met Jeanette Vizguerra last fall, when I interviewed her for my capstone project. She generously shared her Saturday afternoon with me, fielding questions while raising money for the legal fees of other immigrants.

Today Jeanette became the first person to defy a deportation order in the new Trump era. She took sanctuary at a church in downtown Denver before sending her lawyer to a hearing with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). At the hearing, her lawyer requested a stay of deportation, which Jeanette has received since 2013.  Because she is no threat, because she contributes to the Denver community in a multitude of ways, ICE has granted stays for the past four years. What now has changed? The rationale is unclear. What is clear: if Jeanette had been at the meeting, armed ICE officials would have taken her into custody and deported her.

Jeanette has been in the United States for 18 years and has three children still at home. The youngest, Zury, is six years old. The kids will now live with their older sister. Their momwill at least be in the same country, praying that ICE follows federal guidelines and honors the sanctuary of the church.

The New York Times covered Jeanette's story today (NY Times ), as did CNN (CNN). Though I am not worthy of such august news sources, I have written about Jeanette and I want to honor her by telling the story here. As our discussion ran long, I will break it up into sections over the next few days. I hope readers are inspired by Jeanette's love for family and passion for social justice.

*********************************************************************
Jeanette, Mamí

“I wake up every morning and check immediately to see that my children are with me.”
-        Jeanette Vizguerra

A woman stagger-steps, spins in tiny circles, balanced only by the little girl held tight in her arms. Winter clothes hide the child but the mother’s face glows in the feeble light.  Jeanette Vizguerra and her youngest daughter, Zury, play at the park together for a video called “A Child’s Wish,” part of a public service announcement titled “This is My American Story.” The PSA was produced by national children’s advocacy organization First Focus to raise awareness of the difficulties faced by immigrant families. Jeanette’s young children can attest to that strain. Since 2012, she has missed a year of their lives due to struggles with her immigration status.
 Jeanette and her husband, Salvador, have four children. All are U.S. citizens and three still live at home. At ages 12, 9 and 5, the youngest have suffered through long periods of their mother’s absence. To help others understand their family’s stress and the dilemma of immigrant families, Luna, Roberto and Zury appear in PSA’s, deliver letters to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices, attend vigils and rallies. They have inherited their mother’s fighting spirit.
***
I met Zury at the front door of her house. Naturally suspicious of an unfamiliar white woman, the little girl planted her feet behind a locked screen door and cautiously pointed away towards the big corner lot.
 “Mamí is there,” she said. “She’s sitting with her friends, in the stripes.”
The group of women sat under a banner proclaiming “Dreamers’ Mothers in Action.” A petite lady in a striped shirt held the attention of the others. Big tables spread with albondigas and pollo framed their circle and a crooked ‘yard sale’ sign explained the patchwork quilt of tarps and stacked clothing that covered the extensive back yard.
            Jeanette Vizguerra got up from her folding chair as I approached and enfolded me in a hug. Her curly black hair was pulled back and she had the same pointed chin and mobile face as her youngest daughter.
            “Hola,” she said. “These are my friends in “DMIA,” Dreamers’ Mothers In Action.  We do a regular yard sale to raise funds to pay for lawyers. Too many people in detention need help.”
Jeanette introduced her right-hand woman. “And this is Brenda Villa. She is completamente bilingual, and she agreed to stay and interpret for you.”
Clouds jostled their way across the sky and a cool wind scattered napkins and Styrofoam cups over the grass. As we all stooped and raced to collect fly-aways, the women relaxed and speculated about the prospects of an afternoon storm, the lack of customers.
After resuming their places in the circle, they looked at me and Jeanette expectantly.  I had anticipated a one-on-one meeting, but the women made no move to leave. Some sat forward eagerly while others leaned back in metal folding chairs and crossed their arms.  The story belonged to the collective. 
Jeanette’s case was covered by the local press and even national vehicles such as the Huffington Post back in 2013, when she won her first stay of removal from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.  No one was startled by my interest in writing about Jeanette, though they expressed surprise in a white woman’s focus on detention.
 “Jeanette, I read that you were in detention on three separate occasions. What was it like?”
Jeanette paused, and looked away, stared unseeingly at the piles of t-shirts and jeans. “I have no good memories, only difficult ones. The thing I remember most is the cold – completamente frío. The jail in Arapahoe County was cold, too, but detention was worse.”
The ladies nodded in agreement and exclaimed over the cold temperatures in prison settings. Jeanette shivered, pulled on a white hoody with black geometric shapes and zipped it tight. Her petite frame, wrapped in hoody and leggings, looked like a teenager’s.
Brenda said, “I think the buildings are kept freezing cold because it reduces the spread of germs? And also to punish the detainees.”
“Yes,” said Jeanette. “The cells are always made of concrete and metal, and the detainees never have enough warm clothes. The clothing was not sufficient for the temperature, and so people were always getting sick, especially with respiratory conditions. There was no medical care, so people were ill for a long time. Depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, they were all big problems for the women in detention. It’s a hard place to be.”
“The cold must not have worked on germs if people kept getting sick. When were you in detention?”
“First, at GEO Aurora (Colorado), for thirty-four days. Then, at a CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) in El Paso for four months. Last, at GEO Aurora again for ten days.”
“What was it like? What was a typical day?”
 “Ooof. Horrible. One female guard woke us in the morning by yelling ‘Get up, you pigs, you won’t eat for free!’ The guards always posted a list of chores, like cleaning toilets, doing laundry, scrubbing floors. They assigned us to do chores by our last name. Sometimes they paid us – was only 82 cents per day – but many times they did not pay. GEO and CCA are supposed to contract this work out to other companies, but they save money by making detainees do it. That’s a violation of our rights.”
Jeanette sat up straighter.  “If someone didn’t do their assigned chores, they were put in solitary.”
She went on to list the conditions of the women’s dorms: inadequate curtains on the showers, guards ripping that curtain open at any stage of soaping or rinsing and turning off the water, no door or partitions in front of the toilets which were stationed at the front of a large room where 70 – 80 women slept in bunkbeds.
I had seen this environment in the women’s dormitory at the facility run by GEO Corporation in Aurora, Colorado. The lack of privacy was shocking but the cleanliness impressive.
Jeanette nodded knowingly.  “They had to clean the room for you – for any visitor. If visiting clergy or a volunteer came into the women’s dorm, detainees had to make it look perfect. If anything was out of place – even a wrinkled blanket – the offender would go to solitary.”
Jeanette explained that if the room was deemed clean enough, the women were rewarded with a Dixie cup of ice cream. Mentions of dessert reminded me of teaching ESL at the Aurora facility. The GEO recreation specialist and I had also used sugary treats as small rewards when we conducted class in detention, distributing candy bars for completed homework. Class took place in a cramped corner room with metal chairs, oversized table and closed red door. Students often joined the class just to keep warm for an hour.

Jeanette pressed her lips together. “The situation is very bad. There is no dignity, no protection of human rights. When I was in detention, I thought I would never see my children again.” 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Shaken and Rattled, but Rolling

Last night, Aden and I returned from a swim meet in the Springs to find our house exhaling putrid fumes through open doors and windows. I had hoped for a semi-clean kitchen and Domino's pizza, but apparently the boys thought otherwise.

Entering the kitchen at a brisk trot, we found Rob with his head and shoulders in the oven.  Daniel presided over a mottled kitchen counter, where baking ingredients lurched and sprawled in disorganized heaps. The sugar bag leaned precariously over the cocoa powder, which had speckled a trail through the (dairy- free) butter. Daniel held a bowl in one hand and a spatula in the other, biting his tongue while propelling batter into a cake pan. Splotches of chocolate batter dotted the granite like an uncertain new constellation.

My eyes bugged, my blood pressure ratcheted up, my breath caught (fortunately for the boys, since I couldn't emit the scream that was building).  Rob emerged from the oven and put a cautionary hand out, a circus lion tamer approaching a wild cat. "Just cleaning, honey. I used some of the oven cleaner on the fireplace and decided to finish the bottle on the oven."

Oven cleaner on the fireplace? While my neurons tangled over that concept, Daniel broke in. "And I made a cake for Aden's swimming!  It has peppermint! and chocolate!" As I examined the mess he added, "Don't put anything away - I still need to make frosting."

The next ten minutes were tense, with my simultaneous cleaning and yoga breathing. Between exhales, I reassured Daniel that the cake would turn out fine even though he had forgotten the baking soda. Rob eventually ordered pizza and the attic fan eliminated all but a whiff of the chemical fumes. No matter that it was forty degrees in the house; we all put on another jacket.

I skipped Sunday dinner to fill out and print the weekly calendar so that I could hit the ground rolling today. Entering all of the carpools, errands, doctors appointments and chores, I remembered what Aden had said to me on the ride home. "You're the only one in the family who thinks of more than one schedule. We all just think about our own, and you have to keep track of everything plus doing your own stuff."

Weell, yes. There's not really much of "my own stuff," but the rest is true. It's my job, and though I can be easily shaken and rattled, I've got to keep rolling - just like every parent. We emerged from the settling dust with engines revving, ready for the week.

I was about to end the blog there, on a self-serving high note, when Daniel reminded me that Valentine's Day is tomorrow. I ripped up the calendar and raced off the store for cards and lollipops, cursing at Hallmark all the way. This week looks more rattle than roll....certainly off to a rocky start. Dark Valentine's chocolate, anyone?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Two Things

Two quotes that I need to pass along on this record-setting warm day in February:

"It's not a woman's job to get smaller & smaller until she disappears so the world can be more comfortable."
- Glennon Doyle Melton

"As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of faiths, and the guarantee of civil liberty lies in having many kinds of people - in establishing a "multiplicity of interests" to go along with a "multiplicity of sects." The idea doesn't reflect a "weak" desire for niceness. It is, instead, intended to counter the brutal logic of the playground. When there are many kinds of bullied kids, they can unite against the bully: "Even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves." "
- Adam Gopnik (and James Madison) in "Americanisms,"  The New Yorker, Feb 13 &20, 2017

Monday, February 6, 2017

Faith in the Collective

The sun shone on families and single people, babies and elders, and thousands of bodies blocked the wind in Civic Center amphitheater. At the rally to Protect our Muslim Neighbors we sang "This Land is Your Land" and listened to poetry, took pictures of creative signs, such as The Statue of Liberty issuing (via mouth bubble) "did I stutter?" and "Jesus said love your neighbor, your Muslim neighbor too."  Fellowship and faith and resolve blended in a heady spirit that lifted the multitude.

On the way home I wrestled again with the issue that puzzles me most - with all this goodwill and embrace of common bonds, why do so many feel excluded and angry?

We all agree that the pillars of democracy show cracks, weighted down by growth in population, changing economics, the explosion of technology, and the Supreme Court decision lifting corporations to the status of citizens.  Global pressures like terrorism and climate change add to the weight. The vast majority of us realize that our centuries-old form of government has veered off course. But we part ways when deciding what should be done.

One faction believes that current structures must be broken down or removed in order to make way for new. On the extreme end, individuals feel that wholesale destruction of the free press, government agencies, even the democracy itself must occur before the government can be remade. I worry that an individual who believes only in himself makes an arrogant presumption that he alone has the foresight and ability to divine the needs of the nation. This viewpoint shows a willingness to sacrifice many in pursuit of the goal, to do away with health care, retirement, health care in retirement, national parks, clean air and water, banking regulations that prevent fraud. Many will suffer.

Another group insists on faith in the collective, defies the paradigm that requires wholesale destruction prior to evolution. Build, not tear down. Invest in what binds us, our desire for healthy families, meaningful work, education, health care, wild lands, parks, representatives who care more for the people than for corporations. Will it be more difficult to graft changes onto existing structures? Perhaps. Will growing pains still afflict the nation, particularly those who are less served by the national story? Yes.

But the collective believes in leading, creating, investing, inventing. Find solutions, build the peace. Strive to include every facet of society, including those who don't agree. Sacrifice no one. Focus on what binds us. Recognize the strength in our Constitution, our free press, our judiciary. Grasp facts, even the hard ones, and seek a real truth. Serve others. We need everyone to rebuild, re-envision, re-tell our national story. No one can sit the bench, all are needed for victory.