Thursday’s deportation of an undocumented mother in Phoenix, Arizona, believed to be the first under new enforcement priorities ordered by the Trump administration, could be the beginning of a mass wave of deportations, advocates warn.
Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, 36, was deported to Nogales in Sonora, Mexico, after a night of demonstrations during which protesters blocked a government van she was being transported in.
Marisa Franco, an organizer with the Phoenix immigrant rights group Puente Arizona, said it has not been routine for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to go after someone like Garcia de Rayos.
“There are many people who will face the same circumstances that Guadalupe faced,” Franco said. “This is going to be a reality for many people in this country because of President Trump and the structure we have with the deportation machine.”
Among his first actions as president, Trump signed two executive orders on immigration, one of which advised US authorities to ramp up the deportations of people who have been convicted of a crime or suspected of committing a crime. That order on interior enforcement was overshadowed by the splashier announcement of the order to construct a border wall.
But it is the interior enforcement order that led to Garcia de Rayos's deportation after she was convicted of criminal impersonation in 2008 for using a fake social security number during one of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's raids. Both the Obama and Trump administrations said they were focused on criminals, but the definition of that term has changed.
During the previous administration, Garcia was not considered a priority for removal, but now she is seen as a criminal because of the fraudulent social security number, and her removal order is being enforced.
Carlos Garcia, director of Puente, said activists believe Garcia de Rayos is the first person to be deported under the new orders.
“There was no precedent in the last two weeks from the priorities until now, and the likelihood of it was because of the new priorities and new administration,” Garcia said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton criticized the deportation on Twitter, saying ICE should be focusing its priorities elsewhere.
"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 on Twitter.
Garcia de Rayos's 14-year-old daughter, Jaqueline, said she had to pack her mother’s belongings for her.
“No one should have to pack their mother’s bag,” Jaqueline said during a news conference Thursday. “The only thing my mom did was work.”
Garcia de Rayos, who was brought to the US by her parents when she was 14, became entangled with the criminal justice system after the raid at Golfland Entertainment Centers where she worked, her attorney Ray Ybarra-Maldonado said.
Under Arpaio, who was voted out of office and now faces criminal charges, deputies obtained employment records and arrested Garcia de Rayos for using the fraudulent social security number. Garcia was arrested at her home and later pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation.
However, Garcia had been allowed to stay in the US under conditions that required her to check in with ICE officials. It was during a check-in on Wednesday that she was detained and ultimately deported.
“Ms. Garcia’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 said in a statement. “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.”
Puente's Garcia said the deportation is likely going to deter people from checking in with ICE.
“If that’s how it's going to be, the community is not going to show up,” he said. “If it was my family … I know I probably wouldn’t show up and it’s likely people watching this news are not going to show up because they no longer trust the process.”
Asked for comment on what the government's message would be to immigrants who find themselves in Garcia de Rayos's position, with a check-in with immigration officials looming, the Trump administration only shared the statement released by ICE, which it deferred to as the agency enforcing the new immigration laws.
A Trump administration source, however, said they believe the universe of people who are in Garcia de Rayos's position — felony convicts with an outstanding removal order — is small. A Washington Post attempt to figure out the number Thursday was unsuccessful because the government does not release those figures, but estimated that it would be thousands of people.
Garcia, who was on his way to Mexico with activists bringing Garcia de Rayos's children so they could be with their mom, called her a hero whose fate likely alerted thousands of others to the danger they now face.
"Her and her family's bravery was so big, it might have prevented other folks from meeting the same fate," he said. "They could have hid, they could have ran knowing this was a possibility, but they turned themselves in and because of that sacrifice we now know how this administration is going to function."