Deported mom becomes face of debate on Trump immigration policy

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Story highlights

  • Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos wants to share her story with other families
  • Supporters and critics are taking sides after mother of two deported to Mexico

(CNN)An undocumented mother of two American-born children who was deported to her native Mexico has become the focus of a national debate over the Trump administration's crackdown on illegal immigration.

In a matter of days, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos has gone from being one of about 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States to a poster child for critics of Donald Trump's hard line on immigration and his promise to increase deportations.
Garcia de Rayos, 35, emerged from her seemingly ordinary life after a yearly check-in Wednesday at the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix.
    It was her eighth visit since her 2008 arrest and conviction for using a fake Social Security number. After each meeting, she was released and returned to her family in Mesa.
    This time, Garcia de Rayos was detained and deported to Mexico within 24 hours in what her attorney claims is a direct result of Trump's crackdown.
    ICE officials insist there was nothing special about her situation: She had committed a crime and was ordered deported.
    Now the case has become a flashpoint in the heated national dispute over Trump's executive order that says any undocumented immigrant convicted or charged with a crime that hasn't been adjudicated could be deported.

    'We don't deserve to go through this'

    For her part, Garcia de Rayos appears keenly aware of her role in this unfolding drama. Far from hiding from the cameras, she held a news conference Thursday night in Nogales, Mexico, and said she wants others to see what's happened to her.
    "I did this so that more families could see what's in store, what could happen, and so that they could know what they could risk," she said, adding that Trump's effort hurts the children of deported parents.
    "I am not what he says. I simply am a mother who fights for her children, who fights to give them the best."
    The Garcia de Rayos family stands with lawyer Ray Maldonado outside the Phoenix ICE office Thursday.
    During an interview in Nogales, Mexico, on Friday, Garcia de Rayos teared up when asked about missing holidays with her family or her daughter's 15th birthday.
    But, she told CNN's Polo Sandoval,"Deep down I always knew this could happen."
    She began to fear deportation "when the President became the President," Garcia de Rayos said, referring to Trump. "Even before then he started threatening to deport people."
    Garcia de Rayos' children -- who were born in the United States -- crossed the border Thursday night to be with their mother.
    "We don't deserve to go through this," her daughter, Jacqueline, told reporters. "No family deserves to go through this. It's heartbreaking. No one should feel this much pain; no one should go through this much suffering."
    Activists and her attorney said they warned Garcia de Rayos she could be deported under Trump's policy. They offered sanctuary at a church, but she decided to check in with ICE anyway, said Lucy Sandoval, an activist who has been working with the family.
    "She wanted to confront this," Sandoval said. "They were hopeful that there would be some consciousness and some heart."

    Debate turns on mom's case

    Garcia de Rayos might be the first person deported from Arizona under Trump's executive order, her attorney told CNN affiliate KNXV-TV. Her supporters said the deportation signals a marked changed from the policies of the Obama administration.
    "I think this is a direct result of the new executive orders that are being put into actions by President Trump calling them 'enhancing public safety,' which really appears only to be attacking immigrant communities and people of color," said her attorney, Ray Maldonado.
    Carlos Garcia, director of immigration rights group Puente Arizona, said, "ICE had done what President Trump wanted -- which is deport and separate our families."
    But US immigration officials said this case followed the regular legal process and it was time for Garcia de Rayos to go back to her home country.
    "(Her) 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 US," ICE said in a statement.
    Immigration advocates say this deportation will cause other unauthorized immigrants to go into hiding. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, called it a travesty.
    "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.
    But supporters of the move see the deportation as a positive example of Trump's effort to preserve American jobs and ensure public safety.
    "President Trump campaigned on the issue of enforcing the nation's laws, and that's exactly what is happening here," Dave Ray, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said in a statement. His nonprofit group backs more restrictive immigration policies.
    "Someone who has been in the country illegally for two decades, received final deportation orders from the immigration courts in 2013 and is a convicted felon shouldn't be the least bit shocked that she's being deported."

    A crackdown on illegal immigration

    The executive order signed by Trump could amount to a vast expansion of authority for individual immigration officers and a dramatic increase in efforts to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
    The order lays out a series of categories of undocumented immigrants that immigration law enforcement officials should prioritize for removing from the country, a reaction to what was criticized by the right as lax enforcement of immigration law by President Barack Obama.
    The Obama administration had prioritized expulsion of undocumented immigrants who threatened public safety or national security, had ties to criminal gang activity, committed serious felony offenses or were habitual misdemeanor criminal offenders.
    Trump's order goes far beyond that, using a sweeping definition of "criminal" and giving a single immigration officer the ability to make judgments on threats to public safety, regardless of whether the person has been convicted of a crime.