Veteran’s wife seeks ‘miracle’ to avoid deportation
LAKELAND — Alejandra Juarez of Davenport says she can’t bring herself to prepare for a forced move to Mexico, even though she is scheduled to be deported Aug. 3.
Juarez, who illegally crossed the border from Mexico at age 18, hopes a bill filed recently by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto will provide the basis for at least a temporary delay in her deportation. Soto, D-Kissimmee, has taken up Juarez’s cause, arguing she should receive permanent resident status as the wife of a former military member.
“I’m still hoping for a miracle,” Juarez, 38, said Monday in an interview at The Ledger’s office. “I haven’t prepared (to move), to be honest with you, because how can you prepare? ... I’m a very spiritual person, and I’m praying a lot, hoping for a miracle. A miracle is the only thing that’s going to get me out of this.”
Juarez and her husband, Cuauthemos “Temo” Juarez, have two daughters — Pamela, 16, and Estela, 9 — both born in the United States. If she is deported next month, the family has decided that Estela will go with her mother to Mexico despite speaking little Spanish.
Pamela, a junior in high school, will remain in the U.S. Estela, who previously attended Ridgeview Global Academy, has been accepted to Davenport School of the Arts as a fourth-grader for the fall.
Temo Juarez, a naturalized citizen from Mexico, spent about a decade in the Marines and served three tours overseas, including a two-year stretch in Iraq. He now runs a flooring business.
Soto’s bill (H.R. 6191), introduced June 21, would grant Juarez permanent legal resident status. It had not attracted any co-sponsors as of Monday.
Members of Congress may file private bills that only apply to a particular constituent. Such bills, commonly used to address citizenship issues, have been approved only sporadically in recent years. Soto, in an email to The Ledger, said the bill is “based upon Alejandra’s unique circumstances.”
Juarez acknowledged Monday that Soto’s bill has a low likelihood of passing, especially with Republicans in control of Congress and Donald Trump in the White House.
Juarez’s lawyer, Daniela Hogue of Tampa, filed an appeal last week with the Department of Homeland Security for a stay of deportation based on Soto’s bill. Juarez and her lawyer met with DHS officials Friday at the agency’s Tampa office.
Hogue said Soto’s bill “gives us a significant change in circumstances. ... Because it’s pending, now ICE can consider this, where there was no pathway before.”
Immigration laws change
Juarez’s plight reflects the changed approach toward immigration laws taken by the Trump administration. With no criminal record, Juarez was assigned low-priority status for deportation during the administration of President Barack Obama.
Trump campaigned on a pledge to aggressively protect the country’s borders, and under his leadership, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has pursued deportation of even those without criminal backgrounds.
Soto has argued against the deportation of the roughly 11,000 undocumented military spouses. In April, he filed the Protect Patriot Spouses Act, which would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, removing a provision that bars non-citizen military spouses from pursuing citizenship without first departing the country.
The bill has gained 16 co-sponsors but has not advanced beyond the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security.
″(Juarez) is a dedicated, patriotic spouse of a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and other war zones to defend our country, and with American-born daughters,” Soto said by email. “She’s also been the inspiration for the Protect Patriot Spouses Act I filed — we should be supporting military families, not deporting them!”
Juarez, who said her father died when she was 6, first entered the United States in 1998, shortly after turning 18. Following the advice of an American smuggler, she told Customs and Border Patrol agents she was an American citizen before revealing the truth. After a subsequent interview, Juarez said, agents told her she would either be sent to a detention center for six months or released if she signed some paperwork.
The 20-page form was in English, a language she didn’t understand at the time, and Juarez said the agents didn’t explain the details to her in Spanish. Only after she had signed did Juarez realize she had waived any future right to a U.S. visa or citizenship.
Soto’s bill would essentially delete the 1998 false statement from Juarez’s record.
Juarez said she returned to Mexico but soon crossed the border again without detection. She married her husband two years later, about a year before his deployment to Iraq.
Juarez lived inconspicuously in Davenport until 2013, when she was pulled over while driving in Lake County. She said she committed no infraction and suspects it was a case of ethnic profiling.
That stop brought Juarez to the attention of ICE, and after that she was required to check in with the agency twice a year. During such a visit in February 2017, one month after Trump’s inauguration, Juarez said she was told that all undocumented residents are now classified as high priority for deportation.
Fight goes to D.C.
Juarez and her daughters joined Soto for a news conference outside the Capitol in April. Juarez cried as Estela stepped to a bank of microphones and made a tearful plea on her mother’s behalf.
Estela said Monday afternoon she hopes somehow her family will remain intact.
“I think she’s done really good fighting, but she’s really hoping she can stay here with me and my Daddy and my dog and my sister,” Estela said.
She said she doesn’t discuss her mother’s situation with her friends because they probably wouldn’t understand.
Juarez said some people have criticized her family for not making sure the girls learned to speak Spanish. She said she wanted to raise her daughters as Americans and never expected either would have to leave the country.
She acknowledged that her husband voted for Trump, thinking he would only focus on deporting people with criminal records. Temo Juarez has not been giving interviews since his wife went public.
Juarez said her family has spent considerable money on legal fees in the past year. Though money is short, she is considering another trip to Washington, D.C., to visit members of Congress and seek support for Soto’s bill.
A petition supporting Juarez on the website MoveOn.org had more than 35,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.
Juarez, who went public in March with a letter to Military Times magazine, said she has encountered mixed reactions. She is part of a support group of military wives.
“Polk County is a very divided county,” she said. “I get a lot of support from Hispanics, and I also got some support from Donald Trump supporters ... because my husband served this country. But I also have people, I thought they would support me because they didn’t know about my legal (status) and they have just pretty much turned me their back.”
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