Twenty-one years after moving to the U.S. from her native Guanjuato, Mexico, Guadalupe García de Rayos has been dropped off alone in Nogales, Sonora, a bustling border town just over the 20-foot fence from Arizona and nearly 1,200 miles from the home she left behind at age 14.
“That’s a long drive,” her husband, Aaron Rayos, said at a press conference in Phoenix Thursday, the news of his wife’s deportation visibly just starting to sink in. Of course, for undocumented immigrants, the fear of deportation is one that always looms heavily. But, said Rayos, “We never thought this day would come.”
One day after García de Rayos was detained during a routine appointment the at ICE field office in Phoenix, she and her family appear to have become among the first casualties of Trump’s promised crackdown on illegal immigration.
“I think this is a direct result of the new executive orders that are being put into action,” García de Rayos’ attorney, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, told reporters on the phone Thursday, after receiving word from the Mexican consulate that his client had, indeed, been deported. Specifically, Ybarra Maldonado pointed to the order signed by President Trump last month entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” which, among other things, moved to more broadly define “criminal aliens,” while making it easier for federal immigration agents to deport them.
“This has nothing to do with public safety and everything to do with kicking people of color out of our country,” Ybarra Maldonado said, calling the order “a complete sham.”
As their American-born teenage children noted in their own tearful statements Thursday, García de Rayos and her family have pretty much lived in fear of this day since 2008, when sheriff’s deputies showed up at their home to arrest their mother after a raid on her then-employer revealed that she’d been using a fake social security number. The raid was one of many orchestrated by longtime Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a means of rounding up and slapping criminal charges on undocumented workers. García de Rayos pled guilty to criminal impersonation — a low-level felony — and by the time a federal judge deemed Arpaio’s raids unconstitutional in 2015, she’d been branded with a criminal record that would haunt her for years to come.
In 2013, after having already served six months in an ICE detention center, an immigration judge ruled that the mother of two had no legal basis to remain in the U.S. and she was ordered to leave the country.
García de Rayos appealed the order and, thanks to an Obama-era policy that prioritized deporting dangerous criminals, known gang members, and other people believed to pose a threat to public safety, she was permitted to stay under the condition that she check in at the local ICE field office periodically, at first once a year and later every six months.
When it came time for her latest appointment this Tuesday, Ybarra Maldonado said, “No facts in her case [were] any different than the last time she checked in. The only difference is the executive order and the new president.”
Aware of the potential impact those factors could have on the outcome of this year’s check-in, García de Rayos showed up anyway — and she wasn’t the only one. Local immigrant rights group Puente Arizona rallied about two hundred people outside the ICE office in anticipation that García de Rayos might be detained, erupting in protest and blocking an ICE van from leaving with García de Rayos for several hours before seven protesters were arrested.
It wasn’t until Thursday morning that Ybarra Maldonado was informed — not by ICE, he said, but by the Mexican consulate — that his attempt to stay García de Rayos’ deportation order had been denied and she had, in fact, been removed from the country.
“Here it is this morning and those cowards have yet to even return my call, to send me an email,” the frustrated attorney told reporters Thursday, referring to federal immigration officials.
Meanwhile, ICE has deflected attempts to pin García de Rayos’ removal on President Trump.
“Ms. García, who has a prior felony conviction in Arizona for criminal impersonation, was the subject of a court-issued removal order that became final in July 2013,” said ICE public affairs officer Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe in a statement to Yahoo News. “Ms. García’s 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 U.S.”
“ICE will continue to focus on identifying and removing individuals with felony convictions who have final orders of removal issued by the nation’s immigration courts,” she added.
Asked about the García de Rayos case during Thursday’s press briefing, White House spokesman Sean Spicer referred reporters back to the immigration officials, saying, “That’s an ICE matter.”
But for those in García de Rayos’ corner, there’s no question about whom to blame.
“ICE has done what President Trump wanted to, which is deport and separate our families,” Carlos García, executive director of Puente Arizona, told reporters Thursday. But long before there was Trump, García said, “the suffering of this family began with Sheriff Arpaio and his worksite raids.”
That’s why, he continued, Puente and other local activist groups will continue to organize and call on local officials like Maricopa County’s newly-elected Sheriff Paul Penzone, who unseated Arpaio in November after 24 years in office, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton “to look at this case as an example for them to step up” and show their support for the city’s immigrant population.
Meanwhile, Ybarra Maldonado is working to simply reach García de Rayos in Mexico and reconnect her with family — though he acknowledges that the chances of returning his client to the country she’s lived in for more than two decades are slim.
Thanks to that felony fake ID charge, he said, “legally, there are not a lot of options for her to come back.”
As for other clients who may have their own ICE dates looming, Ybarra Maldonado said, “my advice to them is going to be, ‘Let’s look for a sanctuary — a church that might want to take you in,’” instead.
“It’s no fun walking someone to the slaughter,” he said.
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