About eight years ago, there was a knock on Guadalupe García de Rayos’s door. Authorities had come to arrest the undocumented mother of two U.S.-born children, a Mexican native who had lived north of the border since she was 14.
The Phoenix mother was detained for months and eventually ordered to be sent back to Mexico. But for the subsequent years, after she appealed her voluntary deportation, García de Rayos was allowed to remain in the United States, as long as she checked in once a year, and then every six months.
Each year, she did so, and each year, immigration officials let her stay.
This year, as García de Rayos feared, was different. When she went to check in as usual at the central Phoenix offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), she was taken into custody as protests erupted outside.
García de Rayos was perhaps among the first undocumented immigrants to be arrested during a scheduled meeting with immigration officials since President Trump’s inauguration, civil rights lawyers told the New York Times. And now, she is gone.
Carlos García, director of the group Puente Arizona, said Thursday that García de Rayos was no longer in the United States.
“She has been deported,” he told a crowd. “And this has been one of the first victims of President Trump.”
ICE confirmed the deportation, saying in a statement that García de Rayos was “removed” to Mexico on Thursday morning, shortly before 10 a.m. local time.
Having anticipated her possible detention, Puente Arizona had on Wednesday organized a rally outside the offices, and crowds swelled to about 200 people at the peak of the gathering, the Arizona Republic reported. Protesters, including de Rayos’s two children, shouted, “No papers, no fear” and “Let her go, set her free,” as others banged on drums and raised posters and flags.
For several hours, demonstrators blocked an ICE van with García de Rayos inside; one man even tied himself to one of the van’s front wheels. It was unclear whether the van was taking García de Rayos and other deportees to Mexico or to detention. Seven protesters were arrested, but the majority of the demonstration was peaceful, Phoenix police said.
Besides the few people engaged in criminal acts, most people out here are peaceful and exercising their rights properly.
— Phoenix Police (@phoenixpolice) February 9, 2017
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday directed questions on the matter to ICE.
“I’m going to refer you back to ICE on that. That’s an ICE matter,” Spicer said during Thursday’s briefing. “The issue is developing in Arizona right now, and I would refer you back to ICE.”
In a statement posted to Twitter on Thursday, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) wrote: “What happened last night to Guadalupe García de Rayos is a travesty.”
“She has been peacefully living and working in the Valley for more than two decades, and by all accounts was building a life and contributing to our community,” it said. “She has now been torn apart from her family. ”
My statement regarding the federal detention of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos and last night's public protest. pic.twitter.com/yIqAt8kAgL
— Greg Stanton (@MayorStanton) February 9, 2017
García de Rayos’s arrest and deportation is likely to mark a shift in priorities under Trump. Previously, the Obama administration prioritized the deportation of people who were violent offenders or had ties to criminal gangs. Trump’s executive order on Jan. 25 expanded priorities to include any undocumented immigrants who had been convicted of a criminal offense.
In an earlier statement, ICE officials said García de Rayos was detained based on a removal order issued by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which became final in May 2013, and was spurred by a prior felony conviction dating from March 2009 for criminal impersonation.
The conviction stems from one of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s worksite raids targeting the Golfland Entertainment Centers, which operated several water and mini-golf parks. Sheriff’s deputies seized hundreds of employment records and later arrested García de Rayos at her house, the Arizona Republic reported. She pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony, the lowest level.
After being arrested and turned over to ICE, García de Rayos spent six months at the Eloy Detention Center. She has been fighting recently to have her felony conviction thrown out on grounds that Arpaio’s worksite raids were unconstitutional. Puente Arizona filed a lawsuit in 2015 to end Arpaio’s raids, an often-touted law-enforcement tactic that has led to the arrests of hundreds of immigrant workers since 2008.
“It has 100 percent to do with the executive order,” Ray Ybarra-Maldonado, a Phoenix immigration lawyer who is representing García de Rayos, told the Arizona Republic.
Ybarra-Maldonado immediately filed documents asking ICE to stay her deportation, on the basis that she has lived in the United States since she was 14, has two children who are U.S. citizens and is fighting to have her felony conviction overturned, he told reporters.
That effort was unsuccessful.
Protesters said they initially stopped the vehicles from leaving, but that they later left the grounds by another exit, the Associated Press reported.
García, the Puente Arizona director, told the Republic that ICE’s decision to take García de Rayos into custody would likely spur other undocumented immigrants who were released on supervision to stop checking in. Now, he said, they might be more likely to go into hiding.
“Most definitely, if what’s going to happen when people come to check in they are going to get detained and deported, I would assume most people will not turn themselves in,” he said.
When asked what she would tell Trump if she had the chance, García de Rayos’s 14-year-old daughter told reporters: “I’d ask him why he would want to take her from me. She hasn’t done anything wrong and I’m not scared of him.”
Asked how long she planned to fight the U.S. government, her daughter had a simple answer, the Arizona Republic reported: “Until I get my mom back.”
This story has been updated.