Donald Trump said many, many memorable things on the campaign trail as he unbelievably became our 45th president over the course of 2015 and 2016. But nothing stuck as much as what he had to say about Mexican migration on Day One, moments after he and Melania glided down the fancy elevator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best," Trump said on June 16, 2015, adding: "They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
More than 19 months later, America's first high-profile Mexican deportation under the new rules of an executive order by now-President Trump didn't involve a rapist, a drug dealer, or a criminal in any normal understanding of the word.
Guadalupe García de Rayos is instead, by every single account, a good person.
Last week, García de Rayos -- 36, married with two teenage children at home near Phoenix -- was doing exactly what the U.S. government had asked her to do, checking in with officers with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. The same thing she'd already done seven times before. Each of those other times, García de Rayos was sent back to her family. Now, under the Trump administration, she was detained and then -- as protesters including her two kids screamed and pounded on drums -- was loaded on a van and deported across the border to Nogales. Mexico.
In the Catch 22 world of American immigration, García de Rayos' "crime" was...being an immigrant. She was here without papers since she was 14, caught in a workplace raid in 2008 by the notorious Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff Joe Arpaio using a phony Social Security card to work (and presumably to pay Social Security taxes).
In Donald Trump's brave new world, ripping such a woman from her husband, her kids -- both U.S. citizens -- and her taxpaying job in the Arizona economy is what we call Making America Safe Again.
"The truth is I was there [in the United States] for my children," García de Rayos told reporters Thursday night from Mexico. "For a better future. To work for them. And I don't regret it, because I did it for love. I'm going to keep fighting so that they continue to study in their country, and so that their dreams become a reality."
"What happened last night to Guadalupe García de Rayos is a travesty,” the Democratic mayor of Phoenix, Greg Stanton, wrote on Twitter. “She has been peacefully living and working in the Valley for more than two decades, and by all accounts was building a life and contributing to our community. She has now been torn apart from her family.”
Let's be very clear about an important point here. Bad and inhuman U.S. immigration policies didn't begin on January 20, 2017, the day that Donald Trump became the 45th president. Indeed, the policies of the 44th president, Barack Obama, were in many ways a mess; while he unsuccessfully supported legislation that would have reformed the immigration fiasco, and while he did implement more humane policies for undocumented kids and their parents midway through, Obama also lacked the strength to rein in large-scale deportations for much of his eight years.
Critics called Obama "the deporter in chief" -- a nickname he earned, fair and square. As an opinion writer, I regret not calling him out -- because it was wrong to overlook it at the time, and because Obama's policies set the stage for Trump to more easily elevate a bad policy into a new radical climate of fear that is now making immigrant communities feel like small-town Mississippi in the heyday of Jim Crow, if not something worse.
The specifics of Trump's policies are a little murky, but the emboldening impact of his presidency on ICE (whose agents' union endorsed Trump) and the way it's begun doing its business -- now the once-time candidate who talked of border walls and deporting millions of what he called "illegals" is sitting in the Oval Office -- is unmistakable.
This weekend, ICE agents fanned out in raids in a host of cities from coast to coast. from Los Angeles to Atlanta. The Trump administration's deportation force knocked on doors in the middle of the night, or set up checkpoints at busy intersections using unmarked cars. While agency spokespeople hailed the detaining and deporting of some migrants with actual felony records, even Trump -- in one of his Sunday morning tweets -- acknowledged that some of the deportees were "others," simply caught like hapless fish in giant tuna nets.
"There is a dreadful sense of fear. It's more than palpable. It's radiating. People are terrified," a Los Angeles United Methodist minister, Fred Morris, told the Chicago Tribune. "They were just sitting there in stunned silence."
Anger should be directed at President Trump, who insisted this morning that the "crackdown on illegal criminals is merely the keeping of my campaign promise." But let's be honest, Trump cannot do this without support from everyday citizens -- both the agents who enforce immoral policies and the voters who stand up and applaud this.
This weekend, as I watched the heart-wrenching scene of the locked van carrying García de Rayos past a crowd of protesters, as her own desperate children screamed "let her go! Set her free!"I could only think one bitter thought. That this senseless, vengeful action was exactly what 62,985,106 Americans who happen to live in exactly the right combination of states voted for on November 8. I'm sure they're quite satisfied with themselves and their president at this moment.
I do not recognize this America. It is not the nation I was a raised to believe in, a generous land comprised largely of immigrants that was -- at least my history textbook told me -- going to pay it forward when the next round of huddled masses approached our welcoming shore.
Instead, we have become a place that shows off the Statute of Liberty by day, then dims the torch so that a faceless deportation army can pound on doors at 2 a.m. and pull over brown skinned folks to ask for their papers. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves -- but the worst part is that nearly half of us voted for America to be exactly like this.