A group of around 30 supporters huddled close to Jeanette Vizguerra and her three children in Aurora’s City Park on a muggy Thursday in August.
“These processes are torturous,” Vizguerra, 43, said, through tears. “To be in limbo, to be in the unknown, it’s torture for your family.”
Vizguerra, who has lived undocumented in the United States for 20 years, knows it better than most. The rally was organized as Vizguerra again anxiously awaited word on whether she would receive a stay of removal from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I’ve been through the anguish of short stays four times now, and I know February will come fast and I intend to be ready,” she said in a statement Wednesday, after learning she had received yet another six-month reprieve from ICE to be able to remain in Colorado, following the rally.
For the past six years, the Aurora resident has lived in fear of being deported, and has managed to remain in the United States by being granted numerous temporary stays from ICE. She was one of the first undocumented immigrants in the state to share her story publicly after being pulled over in 2009 for having an expired license plate.
At the time Coloradans couldn’t get a license if they couldn’t prove status, and much of Aurora operated under the federal Secure Communities program, which required local law enforcement officials to detain people whom ICE thought were in the country illegally.
Today, the city operates under a different standard that prohibits Aurora police from taking a proactive role in the enforcement of immigration.
According to city documents, the Secure Communities program was repealed in November 2014 and replaced by the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP). As a part of PEP, all individuals placed in custody in the city’s holding facility are fingerprinted, whether they are documented or not.
From there, the information is sent to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which then shares the information with ICE. The enforcement agency then has a window of four hours when they are allowed to pick up a detainee. If they miss that window of time, the detainee is released just like anyone else.
The issue was a central talking point at an Aurora City Council intergovernmental relations policy committee meeting in August, where council members discussed Aurora being included along with several cities in the state labeled as “sanctuary cities” for providing a degree of shelter to undocumented immigrants.
The term “sanctuary city” has become a rallying cry for proponents of stiffer immigration laws. They characterize such places as havens where those in the country illegally are protected from immigration authorities.
But the label is far from any kind of official designation. The reality behind the phrase is that while some cities actively thumb their noses at federal immigration policies, many refuse to enforce them not because of any moral obligation to immigrants; they fear lawsuits.
“Throughout the country in major cities, most police chiefs have incorporated a policy that the police department will not take a role in enforcing immigration,” said Aurora Police Chief Nick Metz at the meeting in August.
Last year, a spate of localities that had long worked closely with ICE stopped honoring detainers in response to a federal court ruling. The case found that in Oregon, the so-called immigration detainers — which ask local police to hold people suspected of living undocumented in the United States for up to 48 hours — were not sufficient reason to keep someone in jail.
In response, immigration authorities said they would start asking police to simply notify them when a suspected illegal immigrant is about to get released — not necessarily detain them. They believe the new approach, combined with a focus on more serious offenders, will lead to better collaboration from local law enforcement.
“It’s not necessarily a philosophical issue or debate,” Metz said. “It’s from the standpoint of as our cities become more diverse, as our cities take in more and more folks who are from other countries, as a police department and a police chief, you want to make sure the people feel comfortable calling 911.”
Metz said communities are safer when police officers don’t serve as immigration officers.
“There are some municipalities or counties throughout the United States that have taken on the role of enforcing immigration and it has really created a chilling effect in some communities to be willing to call 911 or to be willing to stand as a witness and say, ‘I saw this specific crime occur, or I was a victim of a crime,’” Metz said.
Today, the city operates under a different standard that prohibits Aurora police from taking a proactive role in the enforcement of immigration.
While the Aurora Police Department does not take a role in the enforcement of immigration law, it does review and endorse forms used to establish eligibility for some undocumented residents to obtain U-Visas. The visas are part of provisions Congress gives to some individuals who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.
Aurora Police Division Chief Vanessa Wilson said at the meeting for an individual to qualify for a U-Visa they must meet three qualifications. Those include that the individual suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from being the victim of a crime, the individual possesses information concerning criminal activity and “has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful” in the investigation or prosecution of that activity, and that the activity has occurred in the United States.
“We get probably on average, 10 a month,” Metz said of those visas. “We review those files and determine whether or not that individual qualifies.”
Aurora Court Administrator Zelda DeBoyes said when Aurora did participate in the Secure Communities initiative, the result was costly, and often, ICE was not able to pick all of the individuals the local court detained.
“Under Secure Communities we would have anywhere between 1,100 to 1,300 people that we reported as being illegal,” she said. “The numbers they would pick up would be minuscule compared to the numbers we reported to ICE.”
Stacie Harding, assistant city attorney, added that it costs the state $13 million a year to enforce the Secured Communities program, and that number doesn’t even take potential lawsuits into account.
Councilwoman Marsha Berzins said during the meeting she did not like the stigma attached to Aurora being included on the list with other sanctuary cities.
Since the fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle on a San Francisco pier allegedly by an immigrant who was released from jail even though U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought to deport him for a sixth time, the debate over how to handle cities and counties that refuse to cooperate with immigration authorities has reached a feverish pitch.
“I just don’t want us to be put in the same category of San Fransisco. That’s why I want us off of this list,” she said.
After the Thursday rally, Vizguerra said she is glad Aurora City Council is looking at the issue.
“We have to start approaching these decision makers and make them understand the very damaging and hurtful impact their policies and rhetoric have on families just like mine,” she said. “To help them be uncomfortable, to help them understand the damage they cause in our communities and how to make them feel that everyday.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of the story incorrectly stated that Aurora police played a role in issuing U-Visas. That forms used to issue U-Visas are reviewed and endorsed by Aurora police, but police do not have a role in approving or issuing the visas themselves. We regret the error.
Why has Ms. Vizguerra been in the United States for 20 years and not become a citizen? If she is so worried about deportation, isn’t 20 years enough time to have applied and been vetted in order to obtain citizenship?
Why didn’t this reporter ask that question?
I’d like to ask Division Chief Wilson about Francis Hernandez (Google: Charges filed against driver after triple fatal – Denver Post). This guy had 19 run ins with law enforcement, some with Aurora and it wasn’t until he killed people, that he was finally stopped in his tracks.
In addition, there was plenty of action happening in the parking lot of Nuevo Club Adixion but, it wasn’t until off duty officer’s were injured in a bar brawl, that the place was shut down.
Marsha, Marsha, Marsha. We all know Aurora IS a sanctuary city. Come on!
I couldn’t possibly agree more Ashley. First come the accusations of poor treatment, although they have already broken our laws, then comes the ‘tortuous’ journey of not knowing. Hell, I know, you’re an illegal, go home, do the paperwork, and get off the taxpayers back. And yes, Denver and Aurora are sanctuary cities, and speaking for myself, I’m worn out from the demands of law breakers in this country, and their costs.
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Go home Ms. Vizguerra, take your kids with you, want to come back to America, do the proper, legal documents and get in line. Until then, to me, you’re just another trespasser.
Ashley, if the legal immigration system wasn’t broken, then she could apply for permanent residency, then perhaps eventually, citizenship. The reality is, for someone of Latin American descent, there are only so many visas available (sometimes only in the thousands per year, depending on your category). The wait can easily extend over 20 years to gain permanent residency if you do not have a parent or spouse, or child over age 21 who is a US citizen. Remember, her children are US citizens, but are most likely under-age.
I don’t think anyone disagrees with incarcerating and deporting violent individuals.
I’d appreciate it if you’d take the time to Google:
Why More Immigration Is Bad for America
The article is written by Howard W. Foster
Need to comment on that one, though you addressed Ashley. Our immigration system is not broken. It just is not being enforced. Gov. Owens showed leadership in 2006 and 8 houses on my block of 16 went vacant in the night, after 1 July 2006 through next 3-4 months. All headed south. Houses refilled during nights, for next 3-4 months. Then vacant for over a year, until the 2008 sales to tippers who bought, and repaired getting funds from government, and properties dropped to below $100,000 value from $186,000 range. Those have now been sold to owners, living in them, quiet streets, with 2 houses still rental, but quiet, one family occupation.
Ritter and Hickenlooper chose to ignore those reporting and enforcement laws, and our police are on non-compliance assistance to Homeland Defense or ICE. Check the county jails, who still have illegal alien felony convicted to higher percentage. Was 23% of Arapahoe County in 2006, when I talked to Sheriff in Oct 06, and we discussed my question to Andy Romanoff (Speaker of House) who asked each cabinet director of our State Offices if they could certify all employees were legal residents. Sheriff than told our Heather Garden attendees, when he asked for re-election vote that year, that he had talked to me before meeting, and told the group of that. Reason I had problem with Andy coming last year, on other side of that question, and after he was chastised by property owners for the kids he brought to chalk write on sidewalk, of Mike Coffmans County Office. They got to clean that sidewalk, but it was not that reported then in either paper. Andy asked me that night if he would have my vote, and I replied “No promises”.
He has a job more in line, if he has given up politics. I like Andy, but not as my representative to Washington D.C. Mike is a double veteran, and definitely working for my benefit, and other seniors-veterans-constituents in District #06. (My house was in #06, #01, #07, now back in j#06, and it only moves when the wind blows.
Aw Gee. Been here 20 years and lived in fear all that time. Now if she had applied and come legally, she would not have that problem. Everyone keeps saying it is not American way to split families. Now didn’t the illegal alien who left their family in whatever country they were born in, split their family when they came sneaking across our border, which is a crime (misdemeanor) which I would now entitle as a felony. Give it some teeth, and if that illegal goes to nearest vendor near the border and buys a fake SS card with name and number, that is felony #2. Can we agree on that to start.
I know what it is to move somewhere to make a better life. My uncle moved from West Virginia with 5th grade education back in 1920s, to paint telephone and electric poles for 25 cents per pole at age 16. Lived and died in Ohio raising family. My father followed him 2 years later with 3rd grade education, and they started cutting timber for sawmill together for $1.00 a day. Whatever hours it took to sharpen their tools, and cut enough to keep sawmill operating.
I cannot work up much sympathy for illegal aliens, since I had 13 from Sonora, Mexico (age 20 to 30) bachelors who all had autos (13) plus 13 more they had parked on front lawn, back lawn, in 2 car garage, in driveway, and on street. Only one spoke English, none had discernible jobs, but came and went at all times of day and night. No use calling police. They had visited these guys several times, in 2006-2007. Trash accumulated till it took 2 full trucks to haul it away when they moved in 2007. Wrecked a car one Sunday morning, came limping in at 7:20 AM with liquids leaking from front end. Doors squealed when opened which brought me to my bedroom window, to see that. (I get up at 6AM without alarm clock-have one, don’t need it). By Tuesday evening FedX and UPS had brought new fenders, radiator and front end parts, they completely rebuilt front end, and painted the car to light creamy-white, from being white 4 door sedan. Lynn Lyall cannot get parts that fast.
Or few years earlier, I was shopping at Trailer Store in West Denver. Came out and we had freezing rain with I-70 iced over with black ice within 15 minutes. Drove to Kipling bridge, where I slid off road, up next to a 4 door sedan that had slid off, and I stopped about 4 inches from that car, alongside, slightly behind. Policeman came and asked me and driver of car, and we assured him we were okay. He had us fill out insurance slip, he exchanged those, and departed to check other cars that had slid off.
We were to report to police station within 24 hours and complete report for state. Neither of us had any damage, but had slid off road. He barely departed when a 4 door ford came around curve, slid into my van, jumped it sideways to collide with the lady’s car. She and I filled out reports at same station at slightly different time next day. Just before 2 years had passed, I received a court date, on her complaint of damage to her car, and her insurance totaled her car. She had collected $9,000 from my insurance company, and $7,000 to hers. Claimed she could not work, as aide in nursing home. My insurance company wanted to up my auto insurance for next 3 years. I wrote to Insurance Commissioner of Colorado. They sent letter to my company asking why I had been imputed to cause all the damage, when no police report filed, and it turned out the driver of 3d vehicle was illegal alien. He paid $100 police charge for no drivers license and no insurance, and my company dropped idea of charging me. Somehow, I don’t feel sympathy for him because he skated, and is still in Colorado, I would guess.
And having illegal aliens living on my block in Aurora, 8 houses went vacant in the night after 1 July 2006, when Gov. Owens brought back legislators to write laws. Those folks self deported themselves back south of the border, hauling all purchases, on 3/4 ton and 1 ton duallies, pulling trailers. Had their $75.00 permit from Mexican consulate office in Denver. Those 8 houses gained new tenants for about 3-4 months moving in during night, and out again at night. Then all set vacant for year, sold by agents or auction, and all dropped in equity value to below $100,000 value, from $186,000 range before 2006. Barely above that now for next year. I lost $80,000 value in my house, even spending $28,000 for energy efficient roof, new furnace, windows and doors, and storage space. My house dropped from !86,500 to $92,000. then to $106,000 and next year 2016will be valued at $150,000. I cannot afford that kind of loss if I have to sell to cover nursing home expenses for wife or me.
I agree, if only people could get licenses and insurance without worrying about getting deported, then your accident might not have been so costly. By the way, deportations are at an all-time high under Obama.
And I’m glad your home value is rebounding, so we don’t have to cover your nursing home costs. I believe that was Mr. Bush who wrecked the economy.
Actually after Insurance Commissioner got done with insurance company, they dropped the premium increase. So it did not cost me any more, but would have if I had just paid and not written to Colorado authorities.
And with the rapid changes coming out of Washington, almost daily from Washington, I am now in fear of our government, more than the enemies that used to be listed on Government Warning Lists. Now all of those countries are afraid of our government with fly by drones firing missiles. Somehow reminds me, and also should remind you of reading of drive-by shootings in Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC where we have such strict gun controls. Shows how much the criminals are afraid of our justice system.
Reason I want to see some stability, standards, and beliefs we all will enforce, come back to USA. I don’t know anyone of my peer group (age and health) who are not afraid we will outlive our assets. AS I TOLD ONE ON PHONE YESTERDAY, I DO NOT PLAN BEYOND TOMORROW MORNING.
Kinda sounds like you live in the Del Mar or Hoffman Heights neighborhood in Aurora.
Yep. Bought here instead of a brick house on Peoria under the flight path for Stapleton. Same price with full basement there, where I got extra large lot, Wood constructed with 2 car garage in Hoffman. Been good investment, until illegals moved in all over area.
Lot of crime, mischief, problems but now quieter with some stuff changed. I still resent whole metro area of Denver being considered as sanctuary cities, with police not working with federals (ICE and Homeland Defense with identification of who is who, and why are we flooded with uninvited illegal aliens). I know the political reasons, but when prior Sheriff told us at Townhouse meeting that 23% of his prisoners in Arapahoe County jail were there on Felonies in 2006. And I saw them self deporting in 2006-2007 going south with 3/4 and 1 ton dually pickups, pulling trailers pile high with household goods, even some pulling 2nd trailer with a boat.
When identified, economy sours, benefits dry up. they self deport, same as when they came north from wherever. Many passed on through Mexico to Central America and South America, and I suppose beyond back to other countries. Note all the Spanish names gone out of K-Mart and other stores, back to English. Just needed to add my bit to having lost property equity. Gov. Owens forced law change to improve system, then not enforced under Ritter or Hickenlooper. Maybe get some more changes in 2016. In meantime, none of know what to expect next week, or month coming out of Washington. First time in my life, I am more afraid of my own government, than of other known enemies.
Thank you everyone for your comments and expressing personal feelings. The comments are best to know the reality of the published store.