By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A Mexican mother of four who has lived in the United States for 20 years took sanctuary in a Denver church on Wednesday to avoid being deported amid a crackdown on illegal immigrants by federal authorities, her attorney said.
Jeanette Vizguerra, 44, sought refuge in the First Unitarian Society church after U.S. Immigration and Enforcement (ICE) officials denied her request for a "stay of removal" on Wednesday, immigration lawyer Hans Meyer said by telephone.
Meyer said his client sought to avoid the fate of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, an Arizona woman and mother of two deported last week to her native Mexico, leaving her husband and American-born children in the United States.
That case drew widespread condemnation from advocates for undocumented immigrants.
Vizguerra’s three youngest children, aged 6, 10 and 12, were all born in the United States, and her oldest daughter, a Mexican national, is an adult who lives in the United States and has a work permit under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
Vizguerra had received five previous stays because she was the victim of an unspecified violent crime and has a pending visa application, Meyer said in the telephone interview.
She was convicted of two misdemeanors, one for using falsified documents and another for illegally re-entering the United States after attending her mother’s funeral in Mexico, he said.
Her latest request for a stay was filed with ICE in December, after the election of Donald Trump, who pledged during the presidential campaign to get tough on illegal immigration.
"The impression was that since there was a new sheriff in town, ICE was waiting to see what the new rules were going to be," Meyer said.
An immigration judge ordered Vizguerra’s deportation in 2011 because of two criminal convictions, Carl Rusnok, a spokesman for ICE, said in a statement.
"Based on these factors, Vizguerra-Ramirez is an ICE enforcement priority," Rusnok said, adding that stays are typically granted to allow a person to prepare to leave the United States.
Several Democratic politicians in Colorado have voiced support for Vizguerra.
The case is a "result of a broken immigration system — a system made worse by the chaotic actions of the White House and ICE," said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.
"Jeanette is not a threat to the community and is someone who has persistently pursued legal status through the proper channels," Hancock said in a statement.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)