SOURCE: Orlando Sentinel
Six months after Alejandra Juarez’s deportation to Mexico, her 17-year-old daughter Pamela sits alone at a large dining room table doing homework in their Davenport home.
Her 9-year-old sister Estela isn’t prancing and singing around the hallways. She moved to Mexico with their mother and is going to a new school, trying to assimilate into the culture as an American. Pamela stayed behind with her father, Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Juarez, a Marine veteran who works long hours and travels for his contracting business.
“It’s so quiet all the time,” Pamela said. “I don’t have anyone else to talk to or play with.”
Alejandra Juarez, 39, was deported in August amid President Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy despite years — and thousands of dollars for lawyers — trying to fix her undocumented status, which was revealed during a 2013 traffic stop.
“I don’t think I have quite accepted it yet,” she said. “I just feel like I’m in a dream — a nightmare.”
Trying to adjust to her new life in the Yucatán Peninsula, she’s looking for a job as her husband supports two households, but there’s no one she trusts to watch Estela.
It’s been a long and winding journey for Alejandra Juarez since 1998, when, fleeing death threats and a life of poverty in Mexico City, she entered the U.S. illegally by falsely claiming to a Customs and Border Patrol agent that she was an American citizen.
During an interrogation, Juarez — who only spoke Spanish at the time — admitted she is Mexican and said she unknowingly signed paperwork in English to avoid federal detention but also bans her future rights to a permanent resident card, visa or a path to naturalized citizenship.
She briefly returned to Mexico but soon crossed over into the U.S. undetected, married Temo, now 42, in 2000 and settled down in Central Florida.
Pamela said she discovered her mother’s undocumented status when she was 9 or so while dreaming of a family vacation to Paris. Alejandra explained that she couldn’t leave the country and Pamela said she quickly realized deportation risks such as her mom driving with an expired license.
“I would get so nervous whenever we would drive by a police officer that they would stop her,” Pamela said. “None of my friends have to worry about that.”
Her worst fear came to fruition that day when Alejandra didn’t arrive to pick her up at a friend’s house.
“I knew something was wrong because she took a lot longer than she should have,” Pamela said.
Alejandra wasn’t much older than Pamela is now when she made the dangerous trek to the Texas border with the help of a coyote — an American human smuggler.
“My mom was a lot more mature than me when she was my age because she had a rough childhood, she had to grow up faster and raise herself,” Pamela said. “I think about it and she had to put herself in that situation … it had to be so bad in Mexico that she needed to cross the border.”
After the traffic stop, Juarez was released under an order of supervision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and required to check in with the local ICE office twice a year.
She was previously considered “low priority” for removal but ICE no longer exempts any undocumented immigrant from potential enforcement under orders from the Trump administration.
In Mexico, Juarez said she has been reluctant to make major purchases for her small apartment, such as a washing machine, hoping the situation is temporary.
“I just kept postponing all that,” Juarez said, “thinking I’m gonna get a phone call saying, ‘You can come back now.’”
Estela, meanwhile, misses her room in Davenport, with pink walls, a canopy hanging over her bed and touches of princess, ballerina and Parisian themes. Her mom also misses life in the U.S.
“She always goes to sleep saying ‘I wish we could come back home tomorrow,’” Juarez said. “I told her she can go back but she says ‘I’m not going back without you.’”
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, said watching Alejandra sob at Orlando International Airport in August while clutching her daughters before boarding the plane to Mexico — after her options for staying were exhausted — was a “traumatic day.”
Last week, with Pamela by his side at the U.S. Capitol, Soto announced he refiled the private immigration bill for Juarez — a rare tactic with a low success rate — that would allow her to return with a permanent resident card until broader immigration legislation may pass that would create an opportunity for her to gain citizenship.
An accompanying bill, the Protect Patriot Spouses Act, would temporarily shield spouses of active-duty military and veterans from deportation during their quest for permanent resident status. In Alejandra’s case, Soto said it would also give an immigration judge more discretion regarding her lifetime ban.
“Now with the new Democratic Congress, there’s a good chance we may, after a long time of a drought on these bills, start hearing a few of these,” Soto said.
Temo Juarez said he and his family reached out to Republican lawmakers to intervene in Alejandra’s deportation but received little or no response.
The self-described “super conservative” Republican voted for Trump but said he recognizes that his family’s biggest political support comes from Democratic legislators like Soto.
“I just appreciate whoever it is,” Temo Juarez said, “but I would like to see the Republicans help out.”
Since Alejandra’s deportation, her husband and Pamela have visited Mexico three times but the reunions are bittersweet.
“Every time they leave, I fall into a deep depression because it’s so hard to see them leaving and I can’t go back with them,” Juarez said. “It just doesn’t seem right. It’s really painful. But I have to keep going because I have no other choice.”
If congressional efforts fail to bring Alejandra back, she and her husband said they have discussed possible options such as permanently reuniting in Mexico.
Temo Juarez, who was born in Mexico, received a green card at age 6 and became a U.S. citizen shortly before an Iraq deployment, said the low wages with high cost of living would make it difficult to support his family south of the border.
“The economy part of it, that’s what would be a big change — that’s whats holding me back,” he said.
While she watches the battle over immigration reform play out in Congress, Alejandra Juarez writes updates on her blog about her life after deportation and encourages other undocumented immigrants to publicly tell their stories.
“Even if it’s embarrassing, and you’re going to expose your life, I do believe at the end of the day, it’s going to benefit you more than it’s going to hurt you,” Juarez said. “There’s a lot of good people who want to help immigrants and those people are going to make a difference in 2020.”