A Mexican-born mother of two U.S. citizens was deported Thursday, in what advocates are viewing as evidence that Immigration and Customs Enforcement is already changing its deportation policies under President Donald Trump.
Dozens of supporters rallied late Wednesday night, crowding around the ICE van carrying Guadalupe “Lupita” García de Rayos. The protests, live-streamed on Facebook, lasted until the early hours of Thursday morning.
But ICE ultimately ignored them, deporting García across the southern Arizona border to Nogales, in the Mexican state of Sonora.
One of Trump’s first actions after taking office was to sign an executive order cracking down on so-called sanctuary cities, which adopt local policies of limiting how much they cooperate with ICE. Buried in that order was a statement defining whom the Trump administration would consider a priority for deportation.
The new priorities are so broad that they could potentially include virtually anyone living in the United States without legal residency ― a major break from the Obama administration’s use of prosecutorial discretion policies that were supposed to focus the agency’s limited deportation efforts on serious criminals. García’s case may offer a glimpse into how ICE’s actions will change under Trump, the most outspoken immigration hard-liner to occupy the White House in recent history.
García was swept up in a 2009 workplace raid. Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, was famous for carrying out such raids in the Phoenix area, where García lived. She was convicted of using a Social Security number that didn’t belong to her in order to work without documentation ― a felony under Arizona law.
Despite her arrest and conviction, she was able to fight the deportation for years. Like many undocumented immigrants, she was ordered to check in periodically with ICE while she appealed the decision. She received a final order of deportation in 2013, according to ICE, but for years, the agency declined to remove her ― likely following Obama-era policies that focused deportation efforts on people with more serious criminal records or more tenuous ties to the United States. (Obama did deport more people than any other U.S. president, including many immigrants with largely clean criminal records.)
García first arrived in the country two decades ago as a 14-year-old and has two children who are U.S. citizens. She was only a few months too old to qualify for the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that shields undocumented immigrants brought here as youths from deportation.
And on Wednesday, she was detained and deported within 24 hours.
“I think this is a direct result of the new executive orders that are being put into action,” García’s lawyer, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, said on a call with reporters.
Ybarra appears to have a point. García likely didn’t appear to qualify as a deportation priority under the Obama administration’s guidelines. The Obama administration considered those with felony convictions to be among the most urgent deportation cases, but felonies stemming directly from the person’s status as an unauthorized immigrant ― as was the case for García ― didn’t count.
With García’s case, ICE made clear that the agency will focus on deporting people with any felony conviction and an order of removal.
“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 spokesperson Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe wrote 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.”
The agency also posted a series of tweets emphasizing that it would deport people with criminal convictions and removal orders.
With the federal government poised to go after a broader group of undocumented immigrants than it did in the latter half of the Obama presidency, activists are looking to local officials to take a more confrontational stance with the Trump administration over deportations.
Carlos García, the director of Puente Arizona, a Phoenix-based grass-roots group that helped organize Wednesday night’s protests, repeated a longstanding demand for the city to remove ICE agents from the jail at 4th Avenue. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) ran on a platform of adopting sanctuary policies, but has yet to implement them.
“He has not put those words into action,” Carlos Garcia said. “We’re waiting for that.”