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Democrats, Advocates Try to Beat Back Trump's Image of Immigrants

Democrats and advocates spent the day trying to counter a different view of immigrants than the one linking undocumented immigrants and crime.
Jacqueline Rayos Garcia discusses her mother's deportation as her brother Angel, left, looks on.
Jacqueline Rayos Garcia discusses her mother's deportation as her brother Angel, left, looks on.Suzanne Gamboa, NBC News

WASHINGTON -- Before the president's speech to Congress, the two young children of a mother deported from Phoenix spoke of the emptiness of their home and their suffering without their mother.

They were part of the counteroffensive Democrats and advocates were mounting to pre-empt the image they knew President Donald Trump would be painting during his first address to members of the House and Senate Tuesday night.

Trump's guests at the speech were to include the family members of victims of crimes committed by immigrants not legally in the country. Even though there were reports that Trump may call for an immigration reform bill during the address, his critics say he has already misled Americans about the pervasiveness of criminality among immigrants.

So Tuesday morning, outside the Capitol, Jacqueline and Angel Rayos García told of weeks without their mother, of no longer arriving home from school to find her there and of not being able to lie down next to her to talk about the school day. They recalled an empty space at meals and of advocating on Capitol Hill for other families like theirs on the day they should be celebrating with their mother on her birthday.

"It's been weeks since my mom's deportation and since then it's been really hard for me and my family, having to live without my mom. I haven't had dinner with her in weeks and it hasn't been the same," said Angel Rayos García, 16. "Everyone has the right to be with their mother and every mother has the right to be with their kids."

His and Jacqueline's mother, Guadalupe was deported early last week after she had gone in for a regular check-in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She had been prosecuted for using a false Social Security number in 2008, but had been allowed to remain and had been working since then with legal permission. She had been in the country more than two decades.

Jacqueline, 14, said she is a victim of "Trump's reckless immigration policies."

"It feels really lonely," Jacqueline said. "It's really sad seeing what Trump is doing to these families ... We aren't criminals. We just work."

Through executive orders signed by Trump, ICE has widened who it is arresting and deporting. Recent ICE operations did include people who had committed serious crimes, as have similar sweeps conducted under the Obama administration. But others who might have been allowed to stay also are being picked up.

Some victims of murders and other crimes committed by immigrants not legally here have been supportive of Trump since his campaign. In a congressional hearing after the 2015 death of Kathryn Stienle, her family and another told of being shattered by the murder of their loved ones by immigrants not legally in the U.S.

But advocates and Democrats said Trump is holding all immigrants accountable for the deeds of only some and is misleading Americans by failing to target the serious criminals over those whose only violation is coming into the country illegally or overstaying a visa.

To counter Trump Jacqueline and Angel were to be guests of Reps. Ruben Gallegos and Raul Gríjalva at the speech. Other members also invited immigrants to be their guests and Astrid Silva, a young woman shielded from deportation by the Obama administration program known as DACA, was to give the Spanish language Democratic response to Trump's speech.

“This evening, President Trump will stand before Congress and try to justify his scapegoating of immigrants," said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Arizona.

"He will try to paint the entire immigrant community with a wide brush of bigotry, using insults to demonize hardworking people like Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos," he said. "I will be standing proudly with Angel and Jacqueline to remind Trump that Hispanic leaders won’t back down in the face of his crusade of hate.”

Grijalva said with his talk about criminality of immigrants and about the need for a border wall, Trump is glossing over the reality of the immigrant community.

"What we wanted to do today is to show you the humanity of what we are talking about. We are talking about real people, real situation, real breakup (of families), real anguish, real fear," he said.

Along those same lines, new Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez announced a luncheon later Tuesday the party would highlight the stories of immigrants affected by Trump's "mass deportation plan" and to "highlight the lies of this administration about targeting only violent criminals for deportation. That is bunk. That is false."

"They talk about 'oh we are only going after certain violent immigrants,' when the reality is the mother in Phoenix who's just keeping her head down, two citizen children who gets deported," Perez said to a lunch organized by Latino Victory Project.

"This is not a national security policy," he said. "Deporting abuelita (grandmother) does not make America safer."

Former Housing Secretary Julían Castro, who also spoke at the luncheon acknowledged to NBC Latino beforehand, that crimes are committed by immigrants not here legally. But he said, "there's no question President Trump is trying to inflate in people's minds the amount of crime committed by undocumented immigrants."

"It's important that people tell their stories of the success they have had in life, playing by the rules," he said. "You have so many undocumented immigrants of different who yes they unlawfully came across the border or overstayed their visa, but since then they've been living good, clean lives."

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