Before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night, President Donald Trump said he believed “real and positive immigration reform is possible.” But for two teenagers sitting in the audience, his deportation crackdown has already had a devastating impact.
Siblings Angel Rayos-Garcia, 16, and Jacqueline Rayos-Garcia, 14, have been separated from their mother for weeks. In early February, Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos was deported to her native Mexico in one of the first high-profile removals of the Trump presidency. After being caught with a fake Social Security number in 2008, Garcia de Rayos had checked in with immigration officials every year and was allowed to stay in the country. But in a February 8 meeting with immigration officials, she was detained, and her deportation was later met with protests.
Arizona Democrats Ruben Gallego and Raul Grijalva invited Angel and Jacqueline to the address, which happened to fall on their mother’s birthday. Before Trump spoke, I talked with Angel, who said he has felt lonely since Guadalupe’s deportation. A sophomore in high school, he likes English and criminology and one day wants to start a family business. He told me that he felt “nervous, but determined” to go to the president’s address. “We’re going to get to see him, and he’s going to see us,” Angel said. “He’s gonna see the face of all immigrants.”
Here’s some more of our conversation:
Mother Jones: What has it been like since your mother was deported?
Angel Rayos-Garcia: It’s been really hard, but I’m staying strong for her. The empty feeling of getting home and knowing she’s not going to be home with you. It’s been hard to concentrate at [school] knowing everything that’s going on. Knowing that your mom is far away from and knowing that you are not going to get home to her anymore.
MJ: Have you spoken to your mother recently?
ARG: Yeah, I called her this morning to wish her a happy birthday. I said happy birthday and that I love her a lot and that I would call her later in the day.
MJ: What does she think of the fact that you’re going to the address?
ARG: She told us that she’s so proud of us and that we need to keep doing what’s right not only for her, but for the community and for the thousands of families are in our position.
MJ: How is she doing?
ARG: Her mood is the same as ours, strong and motivated. We’re staying strong for each other. We’re all trying our best to [get her back].
MJ: What would you tell Trump if you could speak to him?
ARG: I’d tell him that he needs to stop separating families. There needs to be a change and that we’re not scared. We came from Mesa, Arizona, just so he can see our face, the face of suffering families of the mass deportations that he is doing. He’s not just targeting criminals like he says. He’s targeting everyone in general.
MJ: Why do you say that?
AR: My mom is an example. He says he was going to target murderers and rapists, but he’s targeting everyone. My mom showed up to her check-in. We knew what the risks were. We knew there was a high chance of deportation, but we wanted to take it to show everyone.
MJ: Did you ever think you’d be away from your mom like this?
AR: I knew it was a possibility, but I also know that everything happens for a reason and you always have to have hope. You always get through it no matter what. There’s always a new tomorrow.
MJ: What would you say to other families being separated by deportation?
AR: What I would tell them is to stay strong, and we are all going to get through this together. We’re all here for each other. Stay strong and don’t lose hope.