Two days ago, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was deported, perhaps the first migrant deported since Trump's inauguration and his executive order. She has become the face of the new, harsher immigration policies under Trump.
The 35 year old came to the United States with her parents via Nogales when she was 14 years old. In the succeeding years, she married, had two children, and she worked. During a 2008 raid on her workplace (one of the first ordered by Arpaio), it was discovered that she was using a fake Social Security number. In 2013, the government won an order of deportation but she was not deported. Instead she was required to report to the ICE office every six months, which she did routinely. This time, however, she was detained, transported to an unknown location and deported.
Since Trump's January 25 Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement, it is a new era for migrants. Perhaps not "new" but more dangerous.
Fronterizos have long born the brunt of changing immigration policies, which have pushed us back and forth across the border according to the economic needs in the United States. Politicians have used us to gain votes after they have created widespread fear among the population in general. The government has used scare tactics against us, targeting us in our places of work, organizing, and homes. Our U.S.-born children have been treated as second-class citizens, forced out of their homeland.
Are we returning to the fearful times of the 1930s?
In the 1930s during the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover tried to deflect criticism of his administration by blaming Mexican immigrants for the economic problems of the U.S. He supported his Secretary of Labor William Doak's plan to deport half a million "foreigners." The government undertook raids in work places and parks, surveilled labor strikes and called strikers "foreign radicals." They created fear among an already fearful nation and heightened the terror in Mexican American communities. Estimates of the number of people deported and repatriated range from 1 million to 2 million people who left the U.S., more than 50% U.S.-born.
In an oral history of Cleofas Calleros, who directed the National Catholic Welfare Conference in El Paso for many decades, Calleros recalled the story of two families who were repatriated during the Depression along with their U.S.-born children. When the children came of age, they met, fell in love, and married. They had 11 children. When they could not find work in Mexico, they decided to return to their native country, the U.S. Calleros recalled that immigration officials would not let them into the country even though they were U.S. citizens so he suggested they walk across the railroad bridge. When they crossed over, three inspectors met them there to arrest them. Calleros told the inspectors, "You don't dare arrest those. They are citizens of the United States, all thirteen of them. You damn fools- you got rid of two that you thought were Mexicans. Now you're getting thirteen American citizens."
(Interview with Cleofas Calleros by Oscar J. Martinez, 1972, "Interview no. 157," Institute of Oral History, University of Texas at El Paso.)
My own grandparents and great aunt and uncle were repatriated in the 1930s although they had been here for years. They took their U.S.-born children with them. Some died in Mexico. Others remained there for the rest of their lives. Others returned to the United States, serving in the military during World War II. It was such a deeply traumatic experience that I was not allowed to speak to anyone about it.
Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was brought to this country as a 14 year old because her parents wanted a better life for her. She has fought to remain because she wants a better life for her own children, both U.S. citizens. She didn't want to remain in hiding.
People say she broke the law and should be punished, describing her using a fake Social Security number as "identity theft." This is serious but it is also a consequence of a system that relies on fear rather than the reality of our interdependence as two nations. And it ignores the contributions that people like Guadalupe make to the United States. In 2010, the Social Security Administration reported that 3 million migrants with questionable status paid taxes. Retired Americans are benefiting from taxes paid by Mexican migrants.
As a fronteriza, I know first-hand the complex reality of mixed-status families, of migration stories and loss and hope. I know about the trauma created by deportation and the suffering of families divided by immigration policies. Fifty years after my mother's little sister Maria Jesus died far away in Mexico City after they were repatriated, my mama still cried for her because she died so far from home. The pain never goes away but neither does hope.
Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos and her 14 year old daughter Jacqueline who says she fights for justice and for her mom are inspirational. In this newly inaugurated time of fear and terror, their love and humanity give me hope.
See this for more information on the 1930s "The Last Time America Sent Her own Packing" at http://www.historynet.com/immigrants-the-last-time-america-sent-her-own-packing.htm