He arrested me, and while searching my bag found documents that bore my real name and date of birth but a made-up Social Security number. I needed these to apply for a third job — on top of the two, as a house cleaner and a janitor, I was already doing. I pleaded guilty to a third-degree misdemeanor for attempted possession of a forged instrument.
To many, this sounds like a serious charge, but what some might call criminal is a question of survival for most of the people who build your homes and keep them clean. You accept our labor but won’t provide the piece of paper that recognizes our equal humanity.
I decided not to hide my battle against deportation but to fight publicly to draw attention to the unfairness of the system. I wanted to inspire my community to step out of the shadows and raise its voices. In 2011, a judge denied my application for cancellation of removal, saying that my family’s suffering if I was deported would be neither extreme nor unusual. I appealed the ruling.
My three younger children, aged 6, 10 and 12, are all citizens (I also have an adult daughter who has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status); my husband is a noncitizen. What would become of them if I was deported? What I see is that when my children are with me they feel safe, and their grades and self-esteem improve. But because of the fear of separation, they have also received treatment for depression and anxiety. There are millions of children like them in the United States.
While I was waiting for my appeal proceedings, in September 2012 I received news that my mother was gravely ill. After so many years, I had to say goodbye or something inside me would die. Leaving my children with their father, I made the journey to Mexico.
My mother died while I was on the plane. I made it just for her funeral. In April 2013, I returned to the United States, walking across mountains and desert until my feet were destroyed. I was detained by Border Patrol in Texas. While I was held there, I called my family and activist friends to tell them what had happened. Thanks to my community and my lawyer, I was released with a stay of removal and an order of supervision. That stay was renewed five times.
My sixth stay of removal expired this month. On Feb. 15, I had a check-in scheduled with I.C.E. officials. But, after seeing how, in Arizona, I.C.E. had arrested and immediately deported another mother the week before, I followed my intuition and sought sanctuary. When my lawyer and the pastor at the First Unitarian Church went to the appointment in my place, I.C.E. agents were waiting, ready to arrest me.
Now that President Trump has unveiled his plan to criminalize us and make us live in fear, entire communities are under threat. My people here in Denver are keeping their heads held high. The nation saw this spirit in the Day Without Immigrants actions, and we have allies countrywide, in schools and faith communities, on farm fields and in restaurants.
Their example inspires me to continue the fight until we are all able to walk the street freely. But it is not easy to be so public, and — grateful as I am for the support of the Sanctuary Coalition — it is hard to live in a church instead of my home. Perhaps you’ve seen the hashtag #JeanetteBelongsHere. The United States is the country of my children. I will stay here because it is my home. I will not leave.