A Visit With Jeanette Vizguerra
Exhausted from the tension and the recent media attention, still JeanetteVizguerra, Mexican undocumented immigrant who has sought sanctuary at Denver’s First Unitarian Society church (corner of 14th Ave and Lafayette St. just east of downtown Denver) was willing to meet with me for a brief personal exchange. She felt safe and supported there, where she has gotten oceans of support from all over the city, country and the world. They help, give one strength to carry on against what I can only describe as the forces of evil.
I went simply to pay my respects, to express my solidarity with this mother of four, backbone of her family. She and her family have been in the United States for twenty years. Returning to the United States from Mexico after her mother’s funeral, her troubles with immigration began to intensify. Given the recent arrests of more than 600 people, including those technically protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) law, and getting essentially stonewalled by local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. This is Vizguerra’s sixth appeal to stay in the country with her children. She has been active, something of a leader among the undocumented fighting for their rights.
Several years ago, the church welcomed another undocumented immigrant facing deportation, Arturo Hernandez Garcia, who won his case to remain in the country and has done so. Garcia’s presence among the Unitarian led to a five month discussion within the church as to how to deal with requests for sanctuary. The entire congregation voted in favor. Sacred ground really, the First Unitarian Society, even for a Marxist like myself, a place with which pretty much anyone left-of-center is familiar with and has felt welcome there and not just recently. I wasn’t surprised that the Unitarians had greeted Vizguerra so warmly, in such a spirit of solidarity. It has a long and honorable history of involvement in peace and social justice issues. The place is one that I have visited repeatedly over five decades, whether it was for anti-Vietnam war activities in the early 1970s, visiting the offices of the American Friends’ Service Committee and participating in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1980s, peace movement activities against the U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq in the 1990s, or immigrants rights activities since the turn of the millennium.
The last meeting I attended there was a wonderful giant gathering – made up mostly of young folk – committed to opposing racism in all its forms; those in attendance were mostly white, but they understood that their fate and futures are tied to the fates and futures of Brown and Black skinned folk. The First Unitarian Society was a place out of where Helen Henry did wondrous work in support of Native American rights, long before it became fashionable, where the Colorado Coalition Against Attacking Iran held its founding meeting.One of my daughters was a member for a few years and sang in their choir.
The day we met, Vizguerra had reason for concern. News reports were circulating of more than 600 arrests in six states by ICE, an arm f the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. At the same time, media reports circulated that the Trump Administration is going to activate the National Guard in large swathes of the country, to deploy tens of thousands of soldiers to help arrest and deport thousands of immigrants. Add to this the strange behavior of the Trump Administration that refused to permit a delegation of Latino congressional legislators from a meeting about the immigration policies.
But in the past few days hate calls have started too, four or five. These have been reported to the Denver Police who have made a commitment to track down the callers. If they actually do so, that would go far in nipping this particular kind of intimidation in the bud. We talked about that. Although it has been a while, quite a while actually, there was a time when let’s just say, I received quite a few of them myself, hate calls, death threats and the like. It would be stupid to suggest that they don’t hurt, scare a person – they did, they do. In fact I still maintain a fold called “hate emails” just for fun. I shared with Jeanette Vizguerra that those people who make such threatening calls are almost always cowards, their minds poisoned for whatever reason by racial, religious or political hatred, and that unpleasant as it is, not to worry too much about THEM. It was Trump and ICE that is of greater concern obviously.
Jeanette Vizguerra is well aware of her tenuous situation. Although she is guarded “24-7” as they say, no doubt if armed ICE agents busted into the church, there is little that could stop them from seizing her, but perhaps the international solidarity campaign that has ballooned in support of her right to remain in the country might give the Trumpty-Dumpty authorities cause to pause. During the Obama years, there was a policy – not a law – that ICE would not enter certain “sensitive” properties – churches, educational faciities, hospitals – to make immigration arrests. There is no indication that the Trump administration will abide by these policies.
Sarah Magaziner: Undocumented, Eugenically Unfit Immigrant of Another Century.
I felt a little funny telling Jeanette Vizguerra that it was the voice of my grandmother, Sarah Magaziner, dead now seventy years, that insisted that I go. I really had no choice. I always listened to Grandmother Sarah. Sarah Magaziner, a woman who spoke seven languages fluently, who gave birth to fourteen infants; seven of them reached adulthood, the last of whom was my mother, was rejected entry at Ellis Island when she and her two sons landed in the USA as eugenically unfit, because of an eye infection. She was sent back to Europe, to Sweden if I remember correctly, where she worked and saved enough money to book passage again to North America – this time to Montreal, Canada. For there, with virtually no border check at the time she simply took the train from Montreal to New York City where she began her life in the United States and undocumented immigrant, an “illegal alien,” a Jew.
I shared my grandmother’s story with Jeanette Vizguerra, that I had never forgotten the stories of the early hard years here, of people, strangers that had helped my family. That while it was, admittedly a hundred and some years since she made the transition from Bialystok, Poland to Nostrand Ave and Ave. K in Brooklyn, that I for one had never forgotten the struggles, the hardships, the utter poverty my ancestors (grandparents) went through even though those difficult days are today among siblings and other relatives, little more than a distant memory.
Trump’s Anti-Immigration Campaign.
It is not going well, not well at all, for Trumpty-Dumpty. The opposition to his different presidential directives continues to snowball, his popularity in the polls plummeting and splits are starting to appear, big ones, in his base of support. On immigration issues, he’s taking a beating both domestically and internationally, as well he should be.
At first it caused complete chaos at airports as thousands of immigrants couldn’t get back into the country and were refused entry at borders. But its main purpose, somewhat achieved was accomplished – to strike fear into the hearts of the countries tens of millions of immigrants, documented or not. Then a district judge struck down the anti-immigration executive order as unconstitutional throwing the program into confusion where it now remains. The resistance to the Trump’s anti-immigration jihad, has been powerful, rekindling hope and shrinking those fears and immigrants began to see and feel that deeper sense of sympathy, solidarity that exists among broad sectors of the population in this country.
Massive demonstrations in support of immigrant rights all over the country, including one, hastily organized here in Denver that drew 10,000 on a Saturday afternoon not long after Trumpty-Dumpty issued one of his Steve Bannon-Steve Miller-written executive orders. By now, it is literally millions of people in this country, many of whom never dreamed of taking to the streets, who have put on their marching shoes for women’s rights, for immigrant rights, for gay rights, for labor union rights, for peace.