Wife of Marine veteran in Polk County facing deportation

June 18, 2018
In The News

After living in Central Florida for years, married to a Marine and raising two daughters, Alejandra Juarez is facing deportation to Mexico next week — unless she gets a last-minute reprieve.

Juarez’s pending deportation is destroying her family, she said.

Her youngest daughter Estela, 8, who does not speak Spanish, will move to Mexico with her because Juarez’s husband travels regularly for work and would be unable to care for her.

Her 16-year-old daughter, Pamela, will remain in Davenport to finish high school. She is saving every penny she earns working at a restaurant to purchase plane tickets to visit her mother and sister.

“I feel so guilty that my mistake is putting them through all this — they are just two innocent little kids,” Juarez said.

Juarez, 38, had been living under the radar in Davenport until a traffic stop in 2013 brought her to the attention of immigration enforcement officials. Now, the Mexican national must leave the country on June 21.

On May 21, 1998, Juarez attempted to illegally cross into the country from Mexico by claiming she was a U.S. citizen, ICE spokeswoman Tamara Spicer said in a statement.

“On that same date, she was issued an expedited order of removal,” Spicer said. “At some point thereafter, she illegally re-entered the United States."

But Juarez said the simple statement from immigration officials doesn’t convey the whole story.

Then 18 years old, Juarez said she was working at a bakery in Mexico City in 1998 when a man came in and robbed her at gunpoint. After she reported the incident to Mexican authorities, the man returned the next day and threatened to kill her if she pressed charges against him.

“It was a moment where I broke down and realized there’s so much violence here, there’s a lack of opportunity here, there’s no life for me,” she said.

Her uncle paid a coyote — an American human smuggler — to bring Juarez to a port of entry in Laredo, Texas. At the time, the requirement to pass through a checkpoint was to verbally declare U.S. citizenship to a Customs and Border Patrol agent.

Juarez said she made the false claim at the advice of the smuggler but quickly changed her mind.

“I got very nervous and then said, ‘that’s not true,’” she said.

But it was too late to withdraw her statement and border patrol agents immediately detained her for extensive questioning.

Juarez said she was given two options — spend six months in a federal detention center or be released immediately to return to Mexico if she signed some paperwork.

The forms she filled out were later determined to be a waiver of removal proceedings and future rights to a permanent resident card, visa or a path to naturalized citizenship, according to her attorney, Daniela Hogue.

“There’s no indication that anything she signed was translated from English,” Hogue said. “It’s almost a lifetime bar to become eligible for citizenship.”

Juarez briefly returned to Mexico but soon made her way again across the border without detection. She eventually met Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Juarez, a naturalized citizen from Mexico, and married him in 2000.

After settling in Florida and having their first child, Temo Juarez was activated by his Marine Corps Reserve unit for a two-year deployment to Iraq. He served overseas twice more during his military career and now operates a flooring business.

Temo, now 41, declined to be interviewed for this story, citing the exhaustive toll of his wife’s imminent removal.

Since the 2013 traffic stop, Juarez’s initial deportation order was reinstated but Immigration and Customs Enforcement released her on an order of supervision, which required her to report twice a year to local ICE officials and maintain a clean record.

But now, under executive orders from President Donald Trump, ICE no longer exempts low-priority classes of undocumented immigrants from potential enforcement.

Over the years, Juarez has been through 28 immigration lawyers — some working for free and others charging thousands of dollars — without changing her status.

Her immigration case is among thousands of others in the military community, according to immigrant advocacy group American Families United. Approximately 12,000 spouses of native-born, active-duty members serving in the U.S. military are facing deportation, the group said, after cross-referencing U.S. Census data with Pew Research Center surveys and military demographic records provided by the Department of Defense.

“My husband has sacrificed so much for this country and this is the way they pay him back — by deporting his wife,” Juarez said.

ICE has previously stated the agency “respects the service and sacrifice of those in the military and the families who support them, and is very deliberate in its review of cases associated with veterans and active-duty service members.”

On Tuesday, Juarez will attend her final check-in with ICE officials before her scheduled deportation two days later.

A possible reprieve for her could come in the form of a legislative act championed by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, whose district includes the Juarez family residence.

The bipartisan bill, HR 1036 “American Families United Act,” would restore a key element of due process that would allow an immigration judge to take into account Temo's military service as well as the interests of their children.

However, Juarez’s time in the U.S. is nearly up, so her best hope is approval of a request to stay in America for another year to continue exploring permanent options to obtain citizenship.

A spokeswoman for Soto said Thursday that his office has written multiple letters to ICE officials supporting Juarez’s case but has not received a response.

Meanwhile, Juarez barely sleeps because she is busy writing emails and calling everyone she knows, pleading with them to contact the local ICE offices in Tampa and Miami on her behalf.

“I’m just asking for a second chance,” Juarez said. “I’m not a burden to this country.”

For full text, click here