A mother’s happy day: military spouse deported by Trump returns to family

·5 min read

Three years ago Alejandra Juarez fell victim to Donald Trump’s cruelty as the wife of a decorated US Marine Corps veteran and mother of two young US citizen daughters was deported to Mexico under the former president’s zero-tolerance immigration policies.

On Saturday Juarez will rejoin her family in Florida as one of the first beneficiaries of a humanitarian program set up by Joe Biden’s administration to reunify parents Trump separated from their children.

But while Juarez’s Mother’s Day weekend reunion with daughters Pamela, 19, Estela, 11, and husband Temo will close a lengthy, painful journey of isolation and depression, she sees it as a door opening for other families torn apart by deportation.

Related: Trump-era policy forces families to make life-altering decisions at US-Mexico border

“I’m happy this is behind me and my family, and hoping this will lead to a permanent solution not only for military spouses like myself, but for everyone,” she told the Guardian from Mérida, Mexico, where she has been living since being forced from her home in Davenport, Florida, in 2018.

“I hope it will have a domino effect and bring many more people back.”

The Biden administration’s family reunification taskforce was set up by the new president’s executive order in February and began returning some of those “unjustly separated at the US-Mexico border” during the Trump era this week by granting them “humanitarian parole”.

The numbers, however, are uncertain. The homeland security department (DHS) taskforce has been working to identify cases, but admits finding them all will be a lengthy process. It is scheduled to deliver its first report on 2 June.

Also unclear is how many military families were affected by what Biden has called the “human tragedy” of separations during the four years Trump was in office. Federal agencies do not record military service in immigration cases, but a 2018 report by the advocacy group American Families United estimated that up to 11,800 active service men and women, all US citizens or permanent residents, had a spouse vulnerable to deportation.

Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary who is also the taskforce’s chair, said this week’s first wave of reunifications was “just the beginning”.

“Many more will follow, and we recognize the importance of providing these families with the stability and resources they need to heal,” he said, noting the taskforce was “exploring options” for long-term legal stability for reunified families.

Alejandra Juarez walks with her two daughters, Pamela, 16, and Estela, 9, and her husband Temo Juarez, a former US Marine, to the departure gates at Orlando international airport for her deportation flight to Mexico.
Alejandra Juarez walks with her two daughters, Pamela, 16, and Estela, nine, and her husband Temo Juarez, a former US mMarine, to the departure gates at Orlando international airport for her deportation flight to Mexico. Photograph: Joey Roulette/Reuters

Juarez, 41, and her 43-year-old husband Cuauhtemoc, known as Temo, were both born in Mexico. But while he came to the US legally as a child and was naturalized in 2002, shortly before a 16-month deployment in Iraq, she spent the 18 years of their marriage until her deportation undocumented.

As a teenager she was caught crossing the border illegally and chose to sign a document in English she said she didn’t understand and return to Mexico voluntarily instead of being placed in detention. The document permanently forfeited her right to legal status, which she did not discover until after her marriage.

She returned to the US and lived anonymously in Florida with her husband until a traffic stop in 2013 exposed her undocumented status. Even then, under the more relaxed policies of Barack Obama’s administration, she was allowed to stay with twice-yearly check-ins with immigration authorities.

Juarez self-deported in 2018 after Trump implemented his no-tolerance approach, and before authorities could enforce a removal order issued against her. She rented an apartment in Mexico with Estela while her husband remained in Florida to run his roofing business and allow Pamela to finish high school, but with money running out and two households to run, visits to Mexico became less frequent.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck, Juarez said, her jobs teaching English slowed up and Estela returned to Florida. The knowledge her daughters were growing up without their mother, she said, caused her depression for which she needed therapy.

Darren Soto, a Florida Democratic US congressman, lobbied the White House for Juarez to be allowed to return, and has introduced the Protect Patriot Spouses Act to Congress to protect military families from deportations.

“President Trump’s administration was an aberration in American history with regard to immigration. Now we have humanitarian considerations, which are American values, reincorporated into our federal government,” said Soto, who also backs the American Families United Act that would allow some undocumented immigrants with US citizen family members to stay.

“It’s been a long time coming, but Alejandra never gave up on us and we never gave up on her. They’ve missed almost three years of cherished memories together and it’s been traumatic for all of them.”

Juarez said she was grateful for the efforts of Soto, her immigration lawyers and daughter Estela, who was one of her mother’s biggest cheerleaders. The 11-year-old excoriated Trump at last year’s Democratic national convention, reading a letter in which she told him: “You tore our world apart.”

In January, she appealed for Biden’s help in an emotional video in which she likened her father’s military service to that of the new president’s late son Beau. Estela, Juarez said, is documenting the family’s story in a forthcoming book titled Until Someone Listens.

For now, Juarez said, her intention is making up for lost time.

“They need my cooking and they already told me what they want for breakfast on Sunday, so I’ll go grocery shopping like I always did, make breakfast for all of them and go to church like we used to,” she said. “I just want to enjoy my house and my family again.”

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