West Valley City • In two weeks, a Utah mother will be in one of two places.
Here in Utah, tending to her four young children and making tamales to support them.
Or in Guatemala, homeless without resources, facing the same violence she fled from more than a decade ago.
With orders to purchase a ticket and board a plane out of the United States by Oct. 28, a tearful mother, Maria Santiago Garcia, stood Monday evening alongside her four U.S.-born children in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) field office.
The building was familiar to her because she’d checked in with immigration officers periodically over the years.
From a young age, Santiago Garcia said, she’d suffered “severe abuse and violence,” including sexual abuse, in her home country of Guatemala. She’d fled and come to the U.S. 14 years ago and was permitted to stay temporarily with a specific type of visa for victims such as herself.
Here she would have four children — now ages 11, 9, 5 and 3. As a single mother, she sells homemade tamales so they’ll have enough money to survive. But she’s terrified of what her children would face if their family was forced to return to her country of origin.
Her daughter dreams of becoming a doctor, her son a computer technology teacher. Without connections in Guatemala, there’s no way her children would have that type of opportunity, she said.
She, her children and her friends cried as she begged about 30 protesters gathered at the rally to contact government leaders and advocate for her to stay with her children in a country where they can be safe.
“Because they‘re not deporting criminals,” she said in Spanish. “They’re deporting mothers, fathers, families who came to this country to work hard.”
ICE officials said they were unable to respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon. According to court records, Santiago Garcia was convicted of a class A misdemeanor in 2015 for obtaining or assisting in obtaining an identifying document of another.
Under President Donald Trump’s administration, that misdemeanor conviction makes Santiago Garcia a priority for deportation — a departure from past policy.
“I know they say that people who cross the border are criminals, but that‘s not who I am,” Santiago Garcia said. “I’m a mother who’s fighting for my family.”
A teacher standing with Santiago Garcia’s 9-year-old daughter, Sarai Reyes, said the girl is a “perfect student” who loves learning and has become her “hero.” The girl was choking back tears as she tried to read a sign she’d made for her mother.
ICE agents looked on as the group yelled chants on behalf of Santiago Garcia and other immigrants, whom they feel have been targeted by the president’s policies.
Organizers came from La Red de Solidaridad (The Network of Solidarity), a group of activists that advocates on the behalf of immigrants facing deportation, and Unidad Inmigrante (Immigrant Unity), an immigrant advocacy group.
Activist Kate Savage said she’s a fifth-generation Utah Mormon. “When my ancestors came here, they were undocumented immigrants coming into Mexico.
“This is about racism and a terrible way of pulling apart our communities,” Savage said. She said Utah should stand for keeping families together.
Another speaker, Mayra Cedano, said her family watched her uncle be deported nearly three years ago, a “traumatic” experience she wouldn‘t wish on anyone.
“The immigration system is broken,” Cedano said. “We need a reform. We need a reform, not only to protect Maria and her family, but to protect so many other families.”
Santiago Garcia said she appealed to the community because she doesn’t have anyone else to turn to. She and her attorney have been working to push back the deadline of when she will be forced to leave the United States.
Despite the odds, she believes things will turn out.
“I know that the final word is with Immigration [and Customs Enforcement], but it‘s also with God,” Santiago Garcia said. “I put all my trust in God.”