An undocumented mother of two US-born children who was deported to her native Mexico after a routine meeting with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials has become the focus of a national debate over the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
In a matter of days, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos has gone from being one of about 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US to a poster child for critics of Trump’s immigration hard line and his promise to increase deportations.
Garcia de Rayos, 35, emerged from her seemingly ordinary life after a yearly check-in with immigration officials Wednesday in Phoenix.
It was her eighth visit since her 2008 arrest and conviction for using a fake Social Security number. After each meeting, she was released and went back to her family.
This time, Garcia de Rayos was detained and deported to Mexico within 24 hours in what her lawyer claims is a direct result of Trump’s crackdown. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials insist there was nothing special about her situation: she committed a crime, was placed under a deportation order and her time had come.
Now the case has become a flashpoint in a heated national dispute over the Trump administration’s executive order, which says any undocumented immigrant convicted or charged with a crime that hasn’t been adjudicated could be deported.
‘She wanted to confront this’
For her part, Garcia de Rayos appears keenly aware of her role in this unfolding drama. Far from hiding from the cameras, she held a news conference Thursday night in Nogales, Mexico, and said she wants others to see what’s happened to her.
“I did this so that more families could see what’s in store, what could happen, and so that they could know what they could risk,” she said, adding that Trump’s effort hurts the children of deported parents.
“I am not what he says. I simply am a mother who fights for her children, who fights to give them the best.”
Garcia de Rayos’ children crossed the border Thursday night to be with mother.
“We don’t deserve to go through this,” her daughter, Stephanie, told reporters. “No family deserves to go through this. It’s heartbreaking. No one should feel this much pain, no one should go through this much suffering,”
Activists and her lawyer said they warned Garcia de Rayos that she could be deported under Trump’s new policy. They offered sanctuary at a church, but she decided to check in with ICE anyway, said Lucy Sandoval, an activist who has been working with the family.
“She wanted to confront this,” Sandoval said. “They were hopeful that there would be some consciousness and some heart.”
Debate turns on mom’s case
Garcia de Rayos might be the first person deported from Arizona under Trump’s executive order, her attorney told CNN affiliate KNXV-TV. Her supporters said the deportation signals a marked changed from the policies of the Obama administration.
“I think this is a direct result of the new executive orders that are being put into actions by President Trump calling them ‘enhancing public safety,’ which really appears only to be attacking immigrant communities and people of color,” her attorney, Ray Maldonado, said.
Added Carlos Garcia, director of immigration rights group Puente Arizona: “ICE had done what President Trump wanted — which is deport and separate our families.”
But US immigration officials said this case followed the regular legal process and it was time for Garcia de Rayos to go back to her home country.
“(Her) immigration case underwent review at multiple levels of the immigration court system, including the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the judges held she did not have a legal basis to remain in the US,” ICE said in a statement.
Immigration advocates say this deportation will cause other unauthorized immigrants to go into hiding. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, called it a travesty.
“Rather than tracking down violent criminals and drug dealers, ICE is spending its energy deporting a woman with two American children who has lived here for more than two decades and poses a threat to nobody,” he said.
But supporters of the move see the deportation as a positive example of Trump’s effort to preserve American jobs and ensure public safety.
“President Trump campaigned on the issue of enforcing the nation’s laws, and that’s exactly what is happening here,” Dave Ray, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement.
“Someone who has been in the country illegally for two decades, received final deportation orders from the immigration courts in 2013 and is a convicted felon shouldn’t be the least bit shocked that she’s being deported.”
A crackdown on illegal immigration
The immigration executive orders signed by Trump could amount to a vast expansion of authority for individual immigration officers and a dramatic increase in efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
The order lays out a series of categories of undocumented immigrants that immigration law enforcement officials should prioritize for removing from the country, a reaction to what was criticized by the right as lax enforcement of immigration law by President Barack Obama.
The Obama administration had prioritized expulsion of undocumented immigrants who threatened public safety or national security, had ties to criminal gang activity, committed serious felony offenses or were habitual misdemeanor criminal offenders.
Trump’s order goes far beyond that, using a sweeping definition of “criminal” and giving a single immigration officer the ability to make judgments on threats to public safety, regardless of whether the person has been convicted of a crime.