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Jeanette Vizguerra, a Mexican woman seeking to avoid deportation from the United States
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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SPEAKING UP

TIME’s 100 list includes both Trump and an undocumented immigrant who fears being deported by him

By Ana Campoy

US president Donald Trump, who has launched a crusade against illegal immigration, made it to TIME magazine’s 100 most influential people list. So did Jeanette Vizguerra, an undocumented immigrant who has taken refuge in a Denver church to avoid deportation since February.

Vizguerra’s inclusion, alongside politicians, celebrities, and high-profile activists, is a sign of undocumented immigrants’ increasingly powerful presence in the US’s decades-long and belligerent immigration debate. She is appropriately listed in the “icons” category (Trump appears under “leaders).” The mother of four’s stern face symbolizes the fear immigrants feel in response to Trump’s immigration policies—and their growing resistance to them.

Given their legal status, immigrants have traditionally kept their heads down as the rest of the country fought over their futures. Many still do, but more are speaking up. This increase in visibility might be because Americans attitudes towards undocumented immigrants have markedly improved. About 60% of Americans saw immigrants as a burden to the country in 1994; by 2016, the same proportion believed immigrants strengthen the country, according to polling by the Pew Research Center.

It’s also possible that openness itself is leading to public sympathy. The Dreamer movement in particular, made up of young immigrants who were brought to the US as children, has been very effective at forcing policy changes through their inventive protests. Their stories no doubt had an effect on president Barack Obama, who created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, to let them stay.

DACA recipients have even succeeded at softening hardliners like Trump. Although he hasn’t spelled out what he plans to do with the program, Trump deemed its participants to be “incredible kids.” “I love those kids,” he said in a February press conference.

Under Trump, undocumented immigrants and their advocates are exploring new forms of raising awareness about their plight. Activists are escorting immigrants to routine meetings with immigration authorities, and staging protests outside.

Vizguerra’s own check-in appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February drew huge crowds, as well as plenty of reporters and TV cameras. She did not attend the meeting in person, however, after her lawyer learned her request to halt her deportation had been denied. Instead, Vizguerra sought sanctuary at First Unitarian Church, where she remains. (Vizguerra, an immigrant advocate, plead guilty to a misdemeanor for using fake documents, which eventually led to a removal order against her.)

While her status remains in jeopardy, Vizguerra’s face on the pages of Time is a PR coup for a community that has historically been largely anonymous. This kind of publicity could eventually lead to immigration policies that allow people like her to legally stay in the US.