MESA – A year has passed since the world saw images of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos sitting in a locked federal van while her distraught children tried to console her from outside the vehicle. Hoping to stop her deportation to Mexico, protesters surrounded the van in the parking lot of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Phoenix.
The deportation of Garcia de Rayos became a flashpoint in the immigration debate.
The days since have been a struggle for her 17-year-old son, Angel Rayos.
“For me, the past year has been such a blur,” he said. “Seems like just yesterday when everything happened. I can’t even describe my feelings. I just feel really empty inside. My mom was my everything, so it’s like half of my heart is missing.”
Garcia de Rayos is now struggling to start a new life more than 1,400 miles away in her hometown of Acámbaro, Guanajuato, Mexico. The mother of two is battling depression and is struggling financially while living in her elderly parents’ home, along with 10 other family members.
With the help of the Mexican government, she was able to open up a small tortilla shop, but she makes less money in an entire day than what she earned working one hour as a custodian at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa.
At the end of a full day’s work, all she looks forward to is a nightly video call with her children and husband. It has become their main form of communication since she was deported.
Her daughter, Jacqueline Rayos, 15, said she feels alone.
“It’s been pretty tough on me,” she said. “I was so used to coming to my mom, not just for needing to talk to her, but just to hang out with her. I would always go lay down next to her on her bed, and now I can’t do that cause she’s not here.”
The family said it’s the little things they miss about Garcia de Rayos. Her husband, who asked not to be identified by name, described every moment from the time he wakes up until he goes to bed as a living nightmare.
“Everything is different,” he said. “You don’t smell the house with the good food. I mean, I cook, but not as good as her. Her presence … her talking to us, yelling at us, listening to music. There is a void. There’s some emptiness in the house.”
He hasn’t seen his wife since the day she was deported and has kept the household running without her income. He called her deportation an attack on undocumented families.
Garcia de Rayos, who came to the U.S. as a teenager, routinely checked in with ICE every year. Under President Trump and his crackdown on undocumented immigration, her husband said, she was afraid to check in February of last year but did so anyway.
That was her last day in the United States.
She had been arrested in 2008 during an immigration raid by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office. Garcia de Rayos was convicted of a felony for using someone else’s Social Security number, which the family said she did in order to get a job at Golfland Sunsplash. That was her only wrongdoing, her husband said, arguing that the government “makes it impossible to get a work permit, get a residency, or become a citizen.”
The family has hired Phoenix immigration lawyer Ray Ybarra Maldonado to represent Guadalupe’s case. Ybarra is trying to get her case reopened and have the conviction thrown out, on grounds that then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s immigration raids at workplaces were deemed unconstitutional. The family now is waiting to hear the government’s decision on her case on March 5.
Meanwhile in Mesa, the family said they are trying to get through each day by hanging onto their hope and Christian faith.
Religious images hang on the walls of their home. On one, the Virgin of Guadalupe is on display. On another, a picture of Jesus Christ, with lights twinkling all around it. Then there’s Garcia de Rayos on her wedding day. Pictures of her can be found all around, but this home feels empty.
“I’m glad that my family raised me more on the religious side,” Angel said. “I believe that has helped me a lot.”