After President Donald Trump’s administration announced a “zero-tolerance” policy in April to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible, children were separated from families on a wide scale during the detention process for migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.
The administration reversed course to an extent with an executive order June 20 that aimed to detain and hold migrant families together.
A federal judge in San Diego ordered the government to reunite all the families by the end of July 26, the Associated Press reported. The federal government was directed to reunify more than 2,500 children, and the Trump administration said July 26 that more than 1,800 children separated at the U.S.-Mexico border have been reunited with parents and sponsors, but hundreds remained apart, the AP reported.
A person’s first offense of illegal entry into the U.S. is a misdemeanor, but previous administrations have made exceptions, such as for parents traveling with minor children, according to The New York Times — though President Barack Obama's administration detained adults and children together before a court ruling limited the amount of time children could be held in immigration detention. After, an exception was effectively made for parents and children to be released while they await court proceedings.
The local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office had closed for the day, but the protest outside was open for business.
“It's not 'immigration is my problem' — it's everybody's problem,” said Jeanette Vizguerra, a 46-year-old undocumented immigrant who was named one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people of 2017. She garnered widespread media attention amid an 86-day stay in church sanctuary from immigration enforcement in Denver that year.
At the protest on July 31, Vizguerra took a quiet seat in the background behind a line of canopies, tents and protest signs bearing messages such as “Abolish ICE,” “Reunite all families” and “Love thy neighbor; don't imprison thy neighbor.”
At the ICE Denver Field Office at 12445 E. Caley Ave. in central Centennial — not far from the city's municipal offices — cars honked and waved at the roughly dozen protesters that still lined the street as the sun went down.
A longtime activist, Vizguerra arrived in front of the office the evening of July 29, and the protest was planned to last a week, she said. About 15 people slept at the encampment on the first night, she said.
ICE "fully respects the constitutional rights of all people to peacefully express their opinions," said Carl Rusnok, a regional ICE spokesman. "ICE remains committed to performing its immigration-enforcement mission consistent with federal law and agency policy."
The Denver Field Office's area of responsibility includes Colorado and Wyoming, according to ICE's website.
Positive feedback from passing cars was reinforcement for James Patin, a 23-year-old from Castle Rock who said ICE has “ramped up their terror campaign.”
“Abolishing ICE for us is just the first step,” Patin said. “We have to reconnect all the families and give people asylum (and) a path to citizenship.”
Patin referenced what Vizguerra called “the human crisis at the border” in the wake of President Donald Trump's administration's “zero-tolerance” policy to prosecute as many border-crossing offenses as possible, separating children from families on a wide scale in the process at the U.S.-Mexico border. The family-separation practice was reversed, but hundreds of children remained apart from families as of July 26, the Associated Press reported.
Vizguerra entered the U.S. illegally from Mexico in 1997 with one of her children — her husband came separately — and came to Denver, later moving to Aurora, where she has lived for eight years, she said. Vizguerra and her husband have had a moving and cleaning business for the past five years, she said.
“My goal is to take ICE out of Colorado and unite” families, said Vizguerra, who said she was contacted by law enforcement in 2009 and arrested for lacking a driver's license, which undocumented immigrants could not obtain in Colorado at the time. She was then taken to ICE's detention facility in Aurora, paid bond and has spent the years since contesting her immigration case, she said.
Vizguerra said people often don't understand the difficulties in entering the country legally.
When asked why she came to the U.S., she said the reason is the “same for every immigrant. More education for my daughter, more security."
“In my country, the government is corrupt,” Vizguerra added. My “life is here, in the USA. I have my home.”
Stefanie Arjona, a 20-year-old from Denver, came to the protest as part of her work with a University of Denver professor researching immigration and the criminal justice system in Colorado.
“I think it speaks to how much people have been against everything that's been happening at the federal level,” Arjona said of family separations and ICE apprehending immigrants at courthouses. “It's happening, it's real and it needs to stop.”
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