Mexico Faces Massive, Involuntary Repatriations

Published: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - 7:00am
Updated: Tuesday, February 14, 2017 - 12:53pm

(Photo by Matthew Casey - KJZZ)
Sen. Armando Ríos Piter speaks with local Latino leaders at meeting hosted by Chicanos Por La Causa. Ríos Piter represents the Mexican state of Guerrero.
(Photo by Matthew Casey - KJZZ)
Attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado represents Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos. He says President Donald Trump's executive order on public safety and immigration enforcement warrants more scrutiny.
(Photo by Matthew Casey - KJZZ)
Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton

Tension throbbed inside a packed conference room where local undocumented immigrants sat across a U-shaped table from Mexican lawmakers.

The immigrants were there to share personal experiences. But at least one person felt like Mexican diplomats weren’t paying attention.

“Have a little respect and put away your cell phones,” the man told officials.

Federal immigration authorities recently arrested about 700 people in raids that mostly targeted convicted criminals. The nation-wide sweeps came as a result of President Donald Trump’s executive order on interior public safety. Trump's broader immigration enforcement priorities have the Mexican government scrambling to prepare for mass deportations.

Immigrants were clear with Mexican lawmakers that poverty, violence and corruption played a key role in their decision to live as outlaws in the United States. Now they must confront the idea that broader deportation priorities may force them to move back to Mexico.

“They know what they say when they say that Mexico, in a lot of regions and a lot of parts, is some kind of hell,” said Armando Ríos Piter, senator from Guerrero, Mexico.

Ríos Piter and other officials came to Phoenix as part of Operation Monarch, a new government plan to assist people facing repatriation and soothe their fears of being deported under Trump,

The group came to the Valley the day after the deportation of Guadalupe García de Rayos, who lived in Mesa for almost a decade after getting a felony conviction. The government’s removal of García de Rayos sent a clear message to millions of immigrants, according to Ray Ybarra Maldonado, her attorney.

“Don’t work with us,” he said. “Fear us.”

Trump’s executive orders to build a border wall and ban refugees from certain countries have drawn lots of scrutiny. But the president’s order broadening immigration enforcement priorities hasn’t received enough attention, Ybarra Maldonado said.

“It is 110 percent trying to see how many people the president can deport,” he said. “There’s certain provisions in there that absolutely shock me.”

The order specifies who is eligible for deportation. It says people don’t have to be convicted of a crime to become a priority. They qualify if the U.S. Department of Homeland Security believes they broke a law.

“If an ICE officer asks you, ‘Have you ever driven without a license?’ And if [you’re] in a state that it’s a criminal offense, you’re now a priority for deportation,” Ybarra Maldonado said.

The order also targets people who abuse public benefits. But it doesn’t define what abuse means.

“[It] doesn’t need to be a felony, doesn’t need to be misdemeanor, doesn’t even need to be an arrest,” Ybarra Maldonado said. “This is unbelievable.”

Executing Trump’s enforcement priorities requires more manpower, and the president has ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to hire 10,000 more agents. Trump also wants state and local police to pitch-in.

“If we were to sign a 287(g) agreement and be told by Washington D.C. and the Trump administration, how to go about our local law enforcement business, I believe that would make us less safe,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who met privately with members of Operation Monarch. “It would hurt community trust. And it would be a step in the wrong direction.”

The 287(g) program is a federal partnership that allows local police to enforce immigration laws. Some officers like the idea, and the president of the Phoenix police union wrote a letter accusing Stanton of siding with undocumented immigrants over law enforcement.

“President [Ken] Crane, who I work with regularly, I just think on this issue, when it comes to community safety - what’s better for overall community safety - is wrong,” Stanton said.

Immigration activists have expressed frustration with Stanton, too. They want him to make Phoenix a sanctuary city and keep local authorities from enforcing any immigration law. On both of these issues, Stanton said his hands are tied by Arizona’s SB 1070.

Those realities, combined with Trump’s enforcement priorities, left Mexican immigrants looking to Operation Monarch for help.

“We all came here for the same reason,” one man told the Mexican delegation. “There are no opportunities in Mexico.”

That has to change, said Ríos Piter, the senator from Guerrero.

“Our political leaders, most of them have been part of corruption, of stealing people’s money,” he said.

Operation Monarch will visit Sacramento this week.

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