After nearly three years in Mexico, combat veteran’s wife to reunite with family in the US
By GARY WHITE | The Ledger | Published: May 4, 2021
(Tribune News Service) — The wife of an Iraq War veteran who gained national attention after being forced to leave the country nearly three years ago will reunite with her family in time for Mother's Day.
Alejandra Juarez, who left for Mexico in 2018 while facing a deportation order, has received permission to return to the United States. The Department of Homeland Security on Monday granted her humanitarian parole, a temporary form of admission to the country, as first reported by The Orlando Sentinel.
Juarez, 41, told The Ledger by email that she expects to return on Saturday and rejoin her husband and two daughters.
Juarez's plight gained attention largely because she is the wife of a retired Marine, Cuauthemos "Temo" Juarez. She left behind her husband and her daughters — all American citizens — when she boarded a plane at Orlando International Airport on Aug. 3, 2018, after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ordered her to leave.
Juarez had been living without permission in the country since illegally crossing the border from Mexico in 1998, shortly after turning 18.
Humanitarian parole allows entry to the country "due to an emergency" for someone who is otherwise not allowed admission. U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, who championed Juarez's cause and accompanied her to the airport before her flight to Mexico, said the order is open-ended.
Soto said his staff forwarded a letter from Juarez to his contacts at the White House, the Department of Homeland Security and ICE, leading to an examination of her case.
"They are overjoyed at being able to reunite after nearly three years," Soto said of the Juarez family. "What a journey it's been."
Soto, whose district includes Davenport, said the DHS action restores policies that were in place under all recent presidents before Donald Trump. Juarez will be required to check in periodically with ICE officials, as she had done since 2013, when a traffic stop in Lake County brought her to the attention of ICE.
Under the policy of former President Barack Obama, undocumented immigrants without criminal records were generally not targeted for deportation.
The Executive Branch of the federal government has discretion over ICE policies, and Soto said the Trump Administration was the first in decades to adopt a general zero-tolerance policy toward humanitarian parole. He said the change shows that "it does matter who's in the White House."
"We're thrilled that President (Joe) Biden approved her humanitarian parole," Soto said Tuesday. "It was a tragedy for our community to see a military family broken up like that. We didn't give up on her, and she didn't give up on us."
He filed a bill in 2018 to grant Juarez permanent legal resident status, and he introduced the Protect Patriot Spouses Act, which would allow immigration judges to consider a person's status as a military spouse in granting residency.
Customs agents caught Juarez when she illegally entered the country from her native Mexico in 1998. She at first told agents that she was an American citizen, following the advice of an American smuggler, before admitting that she wasn't.
Juarez said agents gave her the choice of going to a detention center for six months or signing papers and being released. She said she didn't read English well and didn't realize that by signing she waived any future right to a U.S. visa or citizenship.
Juarez returned to Mexico but soon crossed the border again without detection. She eventually met and married Temo Juarez, a Marine who was later deployed to Iraq.
The couple settled in Davenport, where Temo runs a flooring business. Temo and the couple's daughters, Pamela and Estela, now 19 and 11, respectively, are American citizens.
A year after Trump's election in 2016, ICE agents told Juarez that all undocumented residents, even those with no criminal records, were newly considered high priorities for deportation. Juarez publicly shared her story, including an ironic detail: Her husband, a naturalized citizen from Mexico, had voted for Trump.
News crews captured wrenching images of the family at the Orlando airport before Juarez departed for Mexico, as her daughters cried uncontrollably.
Juarez has been living near the northern coast of Mexico's the Yucatan Peninsula. Estela moved to live with her while in fourth grade, even though the girl spoke no Spanish at the time. Pamela, then a high school student, remained in Davenport with her father. Estela returned to Davenport last year.
In 2019, the Netflix series "Living Undocumented" included the story of Juarez and her family. Estela also pleaded her mother's case in a recorded, two-minute statement that aired during the Democratic National Convention last August.
Soto said he plans to give the Juarez family time alone this weekend but plans to hold a media event with Alejandra on Monday at his district office in Kissimmee. He said he will continue to seek passage of the Protect Patriot Spouses Act.
"While we're thrilled that Alejandra has returned home, the issue of protecting patriot spouses is still a worthy one to pursue," Soto said. "At any given time, there's about 10,000 military spouses in the immigration process, so there's a likelihood this will happen again and we want the fact that someone is a spouse of an active military member or veteran to be a factor considered by judges in immigration cases."
Three petitions posted on the liberal-oriented website MoveOn.org generated more than 82,000 combined signatures in support of Juarez.
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