Remember this name — Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos — when you’re sold on the idea that only hardened criminals are being deported from the United States.
Remember the 36-year-old mother of two U.S. citizens when you’re sold on the falsehood that counties like Miami-Dade have no choice but to cooperate with federal officials to round up undocumented immigrants with a criminal record.
Remember her children — 14 and 16 years old, and now, motherless — when your state lawmaker argues that he or she is only acting lawfully by enacting sweeping anti-immigrant legislation, as is in the works in Tallahassee.
“What happened to Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos is a travesty,” the outraged mayor of Phoenix, Gregg Stanton, said Thursday in a statement following Garcia’s deportation to Mexico after living and working in Arizona for the last 22 years. “She has now been torn apart from her family.”
What awful, unredeemable thing did this mother do to deserve the harsh life sentence of existing a country away from her children — teens who know no homeland but this one and are now left behind with their father?
Guadalupe was rounded up in one of the infamous sweeps of Latino neighborhoods and businesses in the early 2000s by controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio — a racial and ethnic profiler who boasted of being “America’s toughest sheriff” and has a rap sheet of accusations against him for misconduct longer than many of the people he persecuted.
Unfortunately for her, Guadalupe pleaded guilty to a charge of identity theft — as the undocumented without resources and good counsel often do to return more quickly to their families — and bingo: She was branded for life as a criminal.
This week, instead of hiding, Garcia went to the ICE office in Phoenix for a routine check-in. But ICE officers, claiming to follow orders of the new Trump administration, singled her out for deportation — and quickly flew her to Nogales despite the pleas of protesters, including her family, who desperately tried to block the van whisking her away.
It’s heartbreaking to watch even from afar.
And this, too, could soon be the scene here.
Prepare for family dramas like Guadalupe’s in Miami-Dade if commissioners are as readily convinced as Mayor Carlos Gimenez is that cooperation with Trump’s massive deportation plans are the order of the day.
Prepare for family separations all over Florida if the Legislature goes after sanctuary cities, counties, and law enforcement agencies in the state that don’t fully cooperate with immigration authorities, as bills SB 786 and HB 697 call for. The bills were unveiled Wednesday in Tallahassee by Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, as Guadalupe was living the undocumented’s worst nightmare in Phoenix.
And what would Florida’s government — run by Trump supporters — accomplish when it meddles in city and county affairs? How can the legislators from North and Central Florida tell us what to do in Miami-Dade when they don’t walk in our shoes? Will the Miami-Dade delegation use its influence to quash these intrusive bills or will they readily capitulate like Gimenez? It would be a bleak day in our history if our own elected officials acted in complicity with the most racist elements in Florida — and we helped our own share of “tough” sheriffs to deport our neighbors and the parents of children who go to school with ours.
Elected officials who support Trump want to turn the issue of immigration into a crime problem, when that’s not supported by evidence. Study after study has concluded that immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born. But isolated high-profile cases of immigrants with criminal records who have committed murder have helped create a blanket negative and erroneous perception.
It’s so easy to feed that false stereotype. Speaking at a Sunday television show, Gimenez began rattling off his cellphone the crimes of undocumented immigrants that were being held by the county for ICE to pick up — and not giving it a second thought, he lumped together minor offenses like petty theft with a man accused of a homicide, or possibly, two.
We owe it to this community to discern petty theft from murder. We owe it to our local law enforcement who work in immigrant communities and don’t want to enforce immigration laws to not be placed at odds with the people they serve and need to solve crimes.
Immigrant advocates hardly argue against the deportation of dangerous criminals. But what service does it do this country to leave American children parentless? It accomplishes nothing but opening new deep wounds and heaping devastation upon those children who have to carry on without a parent. If we want them to be and feel solidly and only American, why is the leadership of this country forcing them to live a life of looking to Mexico for the lost parent?
None of this puts, as Trump cast his goal, “America first.”
It only further divides Americans.