Update: Her attorney says Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos has been deported to Mexico.
MESA, Ariz. -- For four years, federal immigration authorities have given Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos a pass to remain in the U.S. rather than deport her back to Mexico.
That changed Wednesday, when Garcia de Rayos went to check in as usual at the central Phoenix offices of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Instead of being released, she was taken into custody, while her husband, two children — both U.S.-born citizens — and a group of supporters watched in tears.
And by Wednesday night, her case had become the latest epicenter of the national debate over immigration enforcement. Before midnight, after hours of protests outside the ICE office on North Central Avenue, federal vehicles left the facility, possibly with Garcia de Rayos inside.
Her family and supporters fear Garcia de Rayos, 36, may be deported quickly to Mexico. That, they say, would make her among the first casualties under a shift in policy by ICE under President Donald Trump.
Earlier, protesters had gathered at the ICE office in an attempt to block federal vehicles from leaving the grounds. Inside the gates were buses and vans used to transport people in ICE custody to detention centers, or to the border for deportation.
After 9 p.m., police officers amassed on the south side of the facility as protesters continued to block access, chanting "Justice!" and "Power to the people, no one is illegal!
The effort was organized by Puente Arizona, the group known for blocking roads surrounding a Donald Trump campaign rally in Fountain Hills last year.
The crowd Wednesday peaked at an estimated 200 people, with the number of protesters dwindling after police arrived.
The scene remained peaceful past 10 p.m., as most in the crowd complied with officers' requests to stay off the street. Phoenix police, wearing helmets, stood by.
But as some protesters continued to block vehicles, several people were taken into custody. Phoenix police Sgt. Jonathan Howard said seven people were arrested, all peacefully.
Puente director Carlos Garcia said protesters would stay as long as Garcia de Rayos' family was there.
Asked how long she planned to stay, the woman's daughter, Jaqueline Rayos Garcia, 14, had a simple answer: "Until I get my mom back."
Garcia de Rayos' husband does not have legal status and did not want to be identified. "Basically we are Americans," he said. "This is our country. We were brought here when we were teens."
The executive orders
In one of his first acts in office, Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 25 instructing immigration authorities to ramp up deportations, in part by broadening priorities to include undocumented immigrants convicted of any crimes or charged with any crimes.
Trump's order is a major departure from former President Barack Obama's deportation priorities, which focused primarily on deporting undocumented immigrants convicted of serious crimes and allowing those with long ties to the U.S. and no significant criminal background to remain in the U.S.
In a statement, ICE officials said only that Garcia de Rayos was detained because of her prior conviction, which stems from a work-site raid almost a decade ago. They did not comment on whether they diverged from the previous check-in specifically because of the recent executive order.
"It has 100 percent to do with the executive order," said Ray Ybarra-Maldonado, a Phoenix immigration lawyer who is representing Garcia de Rayos. "Her case is no different than the last time she checked in. The facts are 100 percent the same. The only difference is the priorities for removal have now changed."
Jessica Vaughan, policy studies director at the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that supports Trump's immigration crackdowns, agreed.
"It could very well be," Vaughan said. "There were so many people exempt under the Obama administration's deportation scheme so it would not surprise me at all" that ICE taking Garcia de Rayos into custody is a result of "the scrapping of that scheme in favor of the Trump administration's executive order, which returns a great deal of discretion to ICE officers in the field to enforce immigration laws as they were written."
In anticipation that Garcia de Rayos could be taken into custody, the group Puente Arizona organized a rally outside the Central Avenue offices of ICE earlier Wednesday. The group advocates to stop the deportation of undocumented immigrants.
As Garcia de Rayos walked through the gates towards the building, some supporters yelled out in Spanish, "We are with you, Lupe." Others locked arms, while some cars honked as they drove past.
"To me this is an injustice," said Jacqueline, standing outside the building in tears. "She has always worked to give us a good education."
Vaughan, however, disagreed that it would be unfair to deport Garcia de Rayos. She said Garcia de Rayos should not be allowed to stay if she has no legal standing to remain despite her long ties.
"I don't think it would be unfair, no," she said. "I think it would be unfair to all the other legal immigrants who qualify and go through the process, if she were allowed to stay, just because she has been here a long time."
Carlos Garcia, the director of Puente, said he believes ICE's decision to take Garcia de Rayos into custody will spur other undocumented immigrants who have been released on supervision to stop checking in and go into hiding.
"Most definitely, if what’s going to happen when people come to check in they are going to get detained and deported, I would assume most people will not turn themselves in," he said.
Response from ICE
In a written statement, ICE officials confirmed that Garcia de Rayos had been detained based on a prior removal order issued by the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review. The order became final in May 2013.
"Relevant databases indicate Ms. Garcia De Rayos has a prior felony conviction dating from March 2009 for criminal impersonation,” the statement said.
The felony conviction stems from a 2008 work-site raid by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, said attorney Ybarra-Maldonado.
He said Garcia de Rayos came to the U.S. in 1996, when she was 14.
In 2008, she was swept up in one of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's work-site raids targeting the Golfland Entertainment Centers, which operated several water and mini-golf parks. Sheriff's deputies seized hundreds of employment records and later arrested Garcia de Rayos at her house in Mesa. She pleaded guilty to a charge of criminal impersonation, a Class 6 felony, the lowest level.
As a result of the charge, Garcia de Rayos was then turned over to ICE, Ybarra-Maldonado said. She spent six months in ICE custody at the Eloy Detention Center, he said.
In 2013, an immigration judge found Garcia de Rayos had no legal stance to remain in the U.S. and issued a voluntary departure instructing her to leave the country, Ybarra-Maldonado said.
After Garcia de Rayos appealed the voluntary departure, ICE gave her an order of supervision instructing her to check in yearly, and then every six months, Ybarra-Maldonado said.
Garcia de Rayos was scheduled for her six month check-in Wednesday but instead of being told to come back in six months, she was taken into custody, he said.
Ybarra-Maldonado immediately filed documents asking ICE to stay her deportation, on the grounds that she has lived in the U.S. since she was 14, has two children who are U.S. citizens, and she is fighting to have her felony conviction thrown out on the grounds that Arpaio's work-site raids were unconstitutional.
He also pointed out that she had been just a few months too old to apply for Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granting deportation deferments and work permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Her felony conviction, though, most likely would have disqualified her from that program.
"She's built a great life for herself and her children, and her kids want her to be home at night. Her kids want her to take them to school, to be at the parent-teacher conference, to see them go to prom, and to see them graduate, and more than anything she deserves to live a life she has built."
Outside the Phoenix ICE facility Wednesday night, Maria Castro, 23, stood in support of the family.
"Lupita was a victim of Arpaio's raids," she said, "and now she is a victim of Trump 's deportation machine."
Republic reporters Brianna Bradley, Laura Gómez and William Everett contributed to this article.
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