On Wednesday night, Americans got a very public glimpse at what President Donald Trump has promised to do millions of times over: an unauthorized immigrant’s arrest and deportation in Phoenix, Arizona.
The victim who caught the attention of media and protesters at the scene was a 35- or 36-year-old mother of two American teenagers, Guadalupe García de Rayos. She had been in the US, according to the New York Times, since the age of 14, when she came into the country illegally. According to her lawyer, she has already been deported.
García de Rayos was known to immigration authorities already. She had checked in yearly with the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office after she was caught and convicted for using a fake Social Security number during a raid at a water park where she worked. (That raid was ordered by the infamous former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who in 2016 lost his reelection bid after he was charged with criminal contempt of court.)
Under President Barack Obama’s administration, García de Rayos had some protections: The administration told immigration officials to prioritize deporting people who were a threat to public safety or national security, had ties to gangs, or committed a serious felony or several misdemeanor crimes. Since she didn’t meet these criteria, she was seemingly spared — even though a judge issued a deportation order against her in 2013.
But the criteria changed under Trump. He recently signed an executive order that effectively expanded the definition of a deportation-prioritized criminal offense for unauthorized immigrants to include any criminal offense, even those who haven’t been officially charged yet but are merely suspected of “acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense.”
With her previous conviction for using a fake Social Security number, that may have put García de Rayos on the list — leading ICE to tear her away from her husband, who is also an unauthorized immigrant, and two US-born children. (Still, a word of caution is needed: ICE never had to strictly follow Obama’s criteria; they were just priorities. So ICE could have decided to ignore the priorities and deport her before anyway — although there appeared to be an active decision to not do anything in her case until now. It’s not yet clear if it’s Trump’s order that inspired ICE’s change of heart, if ICE decided now was the time to act for some other reason, or if something else is going.)
This is Manuel Saldana. He tied himself to one of the front wheels of the van. He said he's going to be here "for as long as it takes." pic.twitter.com/Q8mtzzIjnC— Fernanda Santos (@fernandaNYT) February 9, 2017
ICE, for its part, appeared to defend its actions in a tweet on Thursday:
ICE will remove illegal aliens convicted of felony offenses as ordered by an immigration judge.— ICE (@ICEgov) February 9, 2017
Regardless of the specifics of this individual case, this is exactly the kind of thing we can expect more of from Trump’s administration. Trump previously promised to deport 2 million to 3 million “criminal illegal immigrants.” But as my colleague Dara Lind explained, that’s simply impossible, because there probably aren’t enough unauthorized immigrants who have committed a crime and meet that description. Yet one way Trump could get around this reality is by expanding the definition of a criminal offense, which is exactly what he did in his executive order.
The result: Expect more families to be torn apart, even if they don’t pose a real threat to anyone in the US.