Last night, people around the country tuned to the news to watch a painful scene: the teenage children of Guadalupe García de Rayos crying and reaching out to touch the glass as she looked at them from the back of a white Immigrations and Customs Enforcement van.
This morning, advocates with Puente Arizona announced that she was deported and is now in Mexico.
García de Rayos, who is 35 and has lived in the United States for the past 21 years, has been characterized by immigration activists as one of Trump’s first victims.
That’s true. But it’s also not coincidental that the first high-profile deportation case of the Trump era happened in Phoenix.
Back in 2008, García de Rayos was using a fake social security number in order to work at Golfland Sunsplash, a waterpark in Mesa. She was arrested during one of the first workplace raids ordered by then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio and charged with criminal impersonation.
Under Arizona law, that’s a Class 6 felony.
But as New Times columnist Stephen Lemons pointed out back in 2013, the state’s identity-theft laws are selectively enforced. Thousands of college students get their fake IDs confiscated every year. The vast majority of them don’t face consequences. Those that do are cited with a misdemeanor, not a felony.
In other words, identity theft is fine if you’re just trying to get into a bar on Mill Avenue. But try and get a job so that you can support your family? Sorry, you’re going to jail.
“I spent three months at Arpaio jail before I was transferred to immigration,” García de Rayos says in a video that was filmed in her home and translated into English and uploaded online by Puente.
“What helped me was that when I was there, I was able to see my children. When it was time to say goodbye, my daughter’s eyes would fill with tears and it made me break down.
“I would go back to my bed and tell God, ‘I cannot take this anymore.’”
Although a judge ordered that García de Rayos be sent back to Mexico, she was not considered a priority for deportation under the Obama administration since she didn’t demonstrate a threat to public safety or national security, and had no gang ties.
She appealed and was given permission to stay in the United States as long as she checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement every six months.
For eight years, she complied.
Then, shortly after taking office, President Donald Trump signed an executive order saying that undocumented immigrants convicted of any criminal offense should be deported immediately.
On Wednesday, García de Rayos headed to the ICE office in Phoenix for what should have been a routine check-in. She was arrested and placed into the van that took her to Nogales, Sonora.
“Arizona’s identity-theft laws are one hundred percent the reason why Guadalupe was placed into ICE proceedings in the first place,” her lawyer, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, said. “It’s safe to say those laws are the reason why she is Mexico today.”
In 1996, Arizona became the first state in the country to pass legislation making identity theft a felony.
Then, in 2008, the state legislature passed additional laws making it a felony to use a fake ID to seek work in Arizona — a policy which primarily affected undocumented immigrants and facilitated hundreds of deportations that took place during the Arpaio years.
Puente fought the law all the way to federal appeals court, where a judge ultimately ruled to uphold it.
It’s unclear how many undocumented immigrants in the Phoenix area have criminal convictions because they had used fraudulent IDs to find work, and are now at risk of deportation.
“There were over 800 people involved in those [Arpaio’s] raids — we don’t have an exact number of how many have been removed or how many are pending,” Ybarra Maldonado says. “I think it’s possible there are hundreds of people who could be placed in harm’s way as a result of this executive order.”
Guadalupe García de Rayos may have been the first. But she won’t be the last.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.