On Thursday, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was deported from my hometown of Mesa, Arizona. She is a 36 year-old mother of two who came over to this country when she was just fourteen. Her deportation was a result of Donald Trump’s recent executive orders regarding immigration enforcement. Predictably, Rayos’ deportation sparked protests, which led to seven arrests. This is a really interesting situation, one I’d like to dig into further. Was her deportation really necessary, or do Trump’s policies need to change in order to accommodate a situation such as hers?
There are several reasons why this case is so controversial. The first is obviously the fact that Rayos is a married mother of two. Her two children, ages 14 and 16, are legal citizens that were born in this country. Her husband is not legal. The family did not come here together, since Rayos came to this country over twenty years ago as a child. These types of situations are extremely complicated. She clearly did not choose to come to this country originally, but was brought here. Sending her back also means forcing her to go somewhere she hasn’t been in decades. She has lived most of her life in Arizona. Most importantly, deportation means splitting up her family, which is pretty harsh.
The second reason this situation is controversial is Rayos’ history. In 2008, she was arrested by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office in one of Joe Arpaio’s famous, and legally questionable, worksite raids. This resulted in her pleading guilty to criminal impersonation for using a fake social security number, with her real name, to get a job. That is a Class 6 felony, the lowest level of felonies, but a felony nonetheless. She was then turned over to ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement), where she spent 90 days in custody, and ordered by a judge to leave the country. However, ICE “granted her a stay of deportation,” allowing her to remain in the country if she checked in every year (and then six months), which she did. This allowed her to receive a work permit. Wednesday, when Rayos showed up for her six month check-up at ICE, she was detained. All of this was without warning, which is also part of the controversy.
Many conservatives are pleased with this result. “Finally,” they say, “we are starting to deport all of those illegals.” They are happy that Trump is getting the job done. On this particular issue, though, I happen to disagree with my fellow conservatives. I’m going to do my best to explain why.
Let me start by looking at the stated purposes of Trump’s executive orders. One states that, “Interior enforcement of our Nation's immigration laws is critically important to the national security and public safety of the United States.” They are targeting undocumented immigrants that “present a significant threat to national security and public safety.” What crimes are deemed a threat to our national security? According to the executive order the types of crime that Trump has in mind are, “drug- and human-trafficking,” “smuggling operations,” “violent crime[s],” and “acts of terror.” Was Rayos involved in any of these activities? No, nothing indicates that she was. Sure, she committed a felony in 2008, and I’ll get into that, but she didn’t commit a violent crime, nor was she a threat to anyone.
Let’s get to that 2008 felony conviction. Yes, she did use a fake social security number in order to get a job. It does not equal identity theft, and it is the lowest level felony there is, but it is still a crime. However, she was only arrested through unconstitutional means. Would she have been deported had the government not violated the constitution? Probably not. In addition, her crime, which she spent 90 days in custody for, was not a violent one. It was not one involving drugs, terrorism, or anything dangerous. It turns out that the SSN she used did belong to someone else, but that person never knew she used it, or was affected in any way.
People might say, “But a court ordered her out of the country and she didn’t leave!” Yes, but afterward she was given permission to remain in the country, as well as a work permit. Her condition was to check into ICE periodically, which she did. However, with this new executive order, none of it mattered. In fact, the result of her obeying the rules was getting deported. After this, immigrants will probably be less likely to check-in at ICE when they’re supposed to. Why would they? The ones who follow the rules get punished.
I know many people, particularly conservatives, won’t have much sympathy for her because she’s not a citizen and she came into this country illegally. They have even less sympathy for her since she was convicted of a crime. However, she is not the problem. We’ve had a problem with our immigration system for decades, and our politicians have refused to do anything about it. Now suddenly, we overreact and she gets caught in the crossfire?
Many of those here illegally are just trying to make better lives for themselves. They came here as children (like Rayos) and work hard to earn a living. Yes, Rayos did technically commit a crime, but it was a minor crime. It would be one thing if she did commit identity theft, or if she used a fake SSN to steal money. However, she didn’t do either of those things. She only used it to find a job in order to support her family, with no evidence that it negatively impacted anyone else. Is it a crime? Yes, and she paid for it. But does it threaten national security? Is it really enough of a crime to count amongst drug dealers, gang members, and terrorists? Absolutely not. It certainly isn’t a crime worthy of tearing her apart from her family, moving her to a place she’s never been (Nogales, which is not where she’s from), and leaving her children without a mother.
Not only do I find the separation of this family unnecessary and immoral, but it will have negative consequences. Many conservatives complain about the burden undocumented immigrants are on society. Well, now these children will likely become even more of a burden on our society. As I mentioned previously, this will only discourage undocumented immigrants from checking into ICE when required, further complicating the process. Finally, as Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton stated, “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.” I don’t agree with Mayor Stanton on much, but he is exactly right on this. While ICE is wasting time splitting apart families and deporting those with minor crimes on their records, they’ll have less time to go after the violent criminals who we really want out of this country.
The United States is unquestionably a nation based on the rule of law, and enforcement is a key aspect of that. However, that enforcement should be fair and proportional. It seems as though ICE detained and deported Ms. Rayos simply because she was there, not because she deserved to be detained and deported. The executive orders came down and she was an easy target. However, she doesn’t fit the target of those orders as someone who threatens the “national security and public safety” of our community. In fact, it seems as though she was trying to do the right thing. Focusing on people like her does not make us any safer, which is why we need immigration policies that can enforce the law without unnecessarily separating families and leaving children without mothers.
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