PHOENIX (AP) — An immigrant mother in Phoenix granted leniency during the Obama administration was deported to Mexico Thursday in what activists said was an early example of how President Donald Trump plans to carry through on his vow to crack down on illegal immigration.
The case of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos became a rallying cry for immigrant groups who believe Trump's approach to immigration will unfairly tear apart countless families.
Her arrest prompted a raucous demonstration in downtown Phoenix late Wednesday as protesters blocked enforcement vans from leaving a U.S. immigration office. Seven people were arrested.
Garcia de Rayos said on Thursday evening that she didn't regret her decision to report to Immigration and Customs Enforcement despite knowing she'd risk getting arrested.
Garcia de Rayos spoke from the Kino Border Initiative, a soup kitchen and shelter in Nogales, Mexico, where many migrants go after being deported. Her U.S.-citizen children were by her side, their first time in Mexico, their mother said.
"I'm doing this for my kids so they have a better life. I will keep fighting so they can keep studying in their home country," she said. "We're a united family. We're a family who goes to church on Sundays, we work in advocacy. We're active."
Garcia de Rayos was deported around 10 a.m. from a Nogales border crossing and ICE worked with Mexican consular officials to repatriate her, agency spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O'Keefe said in a statement. She said her case underwent a thorough review that determined the 35-year-old mother of two children with U.S. citizenship had no "legal basis to remain in the U.S."
"ICE will continue to focus on identifying and removing individuals with felony convictions who have final orders of removal issued by the nation's immigration courts," Pitts O'Keefe said.
Garcia de Rayos says she's not sure what comes next for her but that her parents, who live in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, are headed to Nogales to reunite with her. Her attorney, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, said there aren't many legal avenues for her to come back to the U.S.
"Getting back to the U.S., legally, there's really no route for her. There's no avenue for her. There's no application she can submit. There's no waiver she can submit," Maldonado said. "I mean, this is a prime example of our failed immigration system."
Advocates denounced the deportation as heartless.
"ICE has done what President Trump wanted to do, which is deport and separate our families," said Marisa Franco, director of the Phoenix-based advocacy group Mijente. "We are going to stand strong with the family."
Garcia de Rayos was among workers arrested years ago in one of then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio's first investigations into Phoenix-area businesses suspected of hiring immigrants who had used fraudulent IDs to get jobs.
Garcia de Rayos was not arrested in a raid of the park, but was taken into custody six months later when investigators found discrepancies in her employment documents. She pleaded guilty in March 2009 to a reduced charge of criminal impersonation and was sentenced to two years of probation. She was placed into deportation proceedings but given leniency under Obama administration guidelines that targeted immigrants who had committed dangerous crimes.
On Wednesday, she showed up with her lawyer for a routine check-in with ICE officials and was detained instead of being allowed to leave after checking in.
Maldonado said his client's deportation could push immigrants deeper into the shadows and to avoid checking in with authorities like Garcia de Rayos always did.
"My advice is, let's look for a sanctuary, a church that might want to take you in if you want to do that. It's not fun walking someone to the slaughter. It's not fun walking in and then walking out without them," he said.
Ahead of Garcia de Rayos' deportation, dozens of immigration activists Wednesday night blocked the gates of ICE's Phoenix office.
Police took positions around the building and confronted some of the demonstrators, many of them chanting "Justice!" in English and Spanish.
Seven protesters were arrested, said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Howard.
The deportation of Garcia de Rayos came days after the Trump administration broadened regulations under which some people will be deported.
The Mexican government said in a statement on Thursday that Garcia de Rayos' deportation is the "new reality" immigrants face in the United States.
Mexico's foreign relations department said that her removal is an example of more severe immigration enforcement.
Officials warned other Mexicans in the U.S. to be cautious, aware of their rights and to stay in contact with their local consulate.
She came to the U.S. from the Mexican state of Guanajuato when she was 14 and has two children who are U.S. citizens, said the Puente Arizona immigrant advocacy group based in Phoenix.
Associated Press writers Paul Davenport and Bob Seavey in Phoenix contributed to this report.