It was her eighth visit since she was arrested in 2008 for using a fake Social Security number. After each meeting, the married mother of two went back to her family.
This time was different.
She was detained and within 24 hours she was deported to her native Mexico, in what her lawyer claims is a direct result of US President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials claim there was nothing special about her case. She committed a crime, was placed under a deportation order, and her time had come.
“The truth is I was there for my children. For a better future. To work for them. And I don’t regret it, because I did it for love,” she said in a news conference Thursday night from Nogales, Mexico.
“I’m going to keep fighting so that they continue to study in their country, and so that their dreams become a reality.”
‘A threat to nobody’
Her case has become a flashpoint in debate over the new policy, which says any undocumented immigrant convicted or charged with a crime that hasn’t been adjudicated could be deported.
“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,” her attorney Ray Maldonado said.
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, a Democrat, called her deportation 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.
‘A different time’
Garcia de Rayos came illegally to the United States in the mid-1990s with her parents when she was 14. She was arrested in 2008 during a workplace raid and convicted one year later of felony criminal impersonation.
After her conviction she appealed a court order to voluntarily deport and lost. She became the subject of a removal order in 2013 and was placed court-ordered supervision, which required her to report on a provided schedule to an ICE office until her order of removal was “affected,” or acted on.
US immigration officials acknowledged that she was compliant with her supervision order. She showed up for each of her seven immigration check-ins prior to Wednesday.
Officials said her case had followed the legal system process and it was time for her 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.
‘She wanted to confront this’
Garcia de Rayos has two children who were born in Arizona. She was warned by activists and her lawyer before her check-in Wednesday that she could be deported.
She was offered sanctuary at a church but she decided to check in anyway, said Lucy Sandoval, an activist who has been working with Garcia de Rayos’ family.
“She wanted to confront this,” Sandoval said. “They were hopeful that there would be some consciousness and some heart.”
Garcia de Rayos said she wanted to be an example for other families.
“I don’t regret it, because I know 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 in Thursday’s news conference.
Trump is not harming the adults and the parents who get deported, but it’s different for the children left behind in the United States, she said.
“I am not what he says. I simply am a mother who fights for her children, who fights to give them the best.”
Her children crossed the border Thursday night to be with their mother.
“We don’t deserve to go through this. 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,” her daughter Stephanie said Thursday.
“I’m not going to stop fighting for her.”
Rights group blames Arpaio’s policy
Her detention prompted demonstrations in Phoenix.
On Wednesday evening, seven people were arrested outside the Phoenix ICE office when protesters attempted to block an agency van from taking Garcia de Rayos away.
Puente sued Arpaio, saying the workplace raids — such as the one in which Garcia de Rayos was arrested — were unconstitutional and amounted to racial and ethnic profiling.
It lost the case on appeal, but Arpaio disbanded the task force that conducted the raids.
A crackdown on illegal immigration
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.
CNN’s Mariano Castillo, Laura Dolan, Jean Casarez, Chris Boyette and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.