When she was 14, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos moved to the U.S. from Mexico. 21 years later, she is headed back — and not by choice.
Since 2008, Garcia de Rayos, an undocumented immigrant, had been making regular check-ins at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix. Usually, these visits consisted of a few questions and a general overview of her case, The New York Times reported.
In 2008, Garcia de Rayos was caught in a raid conducted by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio at a Mesa, Arizona, water park where she worked. Garcia de Rayos, along with other employees, was arrested on charges of using forged documents to obtain employment and suspicion of identity theft. Arpaio’s raids were eventually found to be unconstitutional, but Garcia de Rayos pleaded guilty to criminal impersonation, a class 6 felony.
While Garcia de Rayos was issued an order to voluntarily leave the U.S. in 2013, the Obama administration considered her case a low priority.
On Wednesday, all that changed.
On Jan. 25, President Trump issued an executive order that broadened the definition of "criminal" when it comes to deportation priorities.
Under Obama, undocumented immigrants who had committed violent or repeated crimes were considered high priority for deportation. Under Trump, that changed in a big way. In its broadest sense, Trump’s order would not only make people like Garcia de Rayos high priority for deportation but also all "removable aliens who have been convicted of any criminal offense; have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense," and more.
In other words, virtually all undocumented immigrants not covered by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program (which Garcia de Rayos was just a few months too old upon arrival to qualify for) are at risk of quick deportation.
On Wednesday, when Garcia de Rayos walked into the ICE office, she knew she was facing arrest. She was afraid, but she did it anyway.
She was advised that it might be better for her to go into hiding. Instead, she walked into the ICE office, knowing that it might be her last free moment in the U.S. She was arrested and placed in a van. “I have faith in God,” she told the New York Times as she fought back tears. On Thursday, she was deported.
A family has been torn apart, and Garcia de Rayos’ two teenage children will be left behind.
Her children, 16-year-old Angel and 14-year-old Jacqueline, are American citizens. This is their country as much as it is any of ours. It’s absolutely heartbreaking to know that they’ll be separated from their mother over this. It’s even worse to know that this is just one family out of thousands or even millions that will be split up as the result of this new order.
People took to the street in protest, standing in the way of the ICE vans. Friends, family, and supporters turned out to do what they could to keep Garcia de Rayos from being carted off.
Seven protesters were arrested, though the Phoenix Police Department tweeted that the protests were peaceful overall. The emotional protest cut to the heart of how unfair our current system of immigration can be.
The U.S. needs comprehensive immigration reform. And that means coming to terms with the fact that there are millions of people here who are undocumented.
It’s up to us as a country whether we want to be a land of opportunity or the type of place that will break up families and send people back to countries they haven’t known for more than 20 years.
"She’s built a great life for herself and her children, and her kids want her to be home at night," her attorney, Ray Ybarra-Maldonado, told the Arizona Republic. "Her kids want her to take them to school, to be at the parent-teacher conference, to see them go to prom, and to see them graduate, and more than anything she deserves to live a life she has built."
A common response to discussion about undocumented immigrants is that they should have done things the "right way" when they first entered the country. Unfortunately, the current system makes doing things the "right way" really tough — especially if you’re not wealthy. Earlier this week, Politico reported that Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) is working with the president to make it even harder to come to the U.S. legally. Cotton’s plan would cut legal immigration by half. There’s nothing American about that.
Want to make America great? Then we need to take care of all of its people — natural-born citizens, naturalized citizens, undocumented immigrants, permanent residents, and everyone else. We can’t stand by and do nothing. Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is just as American as any of us.