Sunday was Mother’s Day, but Alejandra Juarez was eager to serve her daughters rather than receive special treatment.
Juarez returned Saturday to her Davenport home, nearly three years after being forced to leave while facing a deportation order. Having received temporary permission to come back, she was reunited with her husband, Cuauthemos “Temo” Juarez, and her daughters, Pamela and Estela.
Alejandra Juarez made a hybrid breakfast for her Mexican-American daughters: chocolate-chip pancakes to suit their American cravings and chorizo (sausage) with eggs for their Mexican side.
Juarez, 41, said she is delighted to be making meals again for her family after 33 months in Mexico.
“The only word I can tell you is it felt like a miracle,” Juarez said Wednesday morning during a virtual news conference. “It is a miracle, if you look at my history. I have a life bar, meaning that I was never supposed to be able to step into American soil. It is incredible. It is unbelievable. I can’t digest it. I can’t grasp it yet. I’m still in shock.”
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, hosted the news conference. Soto’s office worked with President Joe Biden’s administration in securing Juarez’s humanitarian parole from the Department of Homeland Security. Soto, whose district includes Davenport, is seeking legislative measures to grant Juarez permanent legal residence.
Juarez entered the United States illegally in 1998. When first caught at the border, she signed a form that she said she didn’t understand that waived all future rights to a visa or citizenship.
Juarez crossed again from Mexico without detection and soon married Temo and settled in Davenport. Temo, a retired U.S. Marine, is a naturalized citizen from Mexico. The couple’s daughters — Pamela, 19, and Estela, 11 — are American citizens.
A traffic stop in 2013 gained the attention of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Juarez had no criminal record, and under the policy of President Barack Obama she was required to check in with the agency twice a year but not targeted for deportation.
President Donald Trump, elected in 2016, instituted a “zero tolerance” policy for undocumented residents. In 2017, ICE agents told Juarez that she was now listed as a candidate for deportation, and her legal challenges failed.
Facing the threat of deportation, Juarez boarded a flight for Mexico in August 2018. News crews captured her family’s wrenching farewell at Orlando International Airport.
Estela lived with her mother for a time in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula but returned to Davenport last year. The family’s plight received prominent news coverage, and they were featured in the Netflix series “Living Undocumented.” Watching the program, Alejandra Juarez learned about Andrea Martinez, a Missouri-based lawyer shown representing another family.
Martinez, who joined the video session, said Juarez sent her an email in late 2019. When they spoke, Juarez said she had a dream that Martinez would help her reunite with her family in Florida.
Martinez said she advised Juarez to wait until after the 2020 election. When Biden took office, the lawyer got back in touch and then represented Juarez in her bid for humanitarian parole. That policy allows someone otherwise barred from the country to enter on a temporary basis.
Last week, Martinez learned that Juarez’s application had been approved when she received an email from DHS asking for her client’s flight itinerary.
“I was able to do the fun part on Saturday, which was being there for the reunification,” Martinez said.
The lawyer said Soto’s staff, including Chief of Staff Liana Guerra, helped with the process. Juarez was granted a one-year admission, though it can be extended.
Juarez said it feels “surreal” to be back with her family. She said she has avoided going to sleep for fear that it will turn out to be a dream. She wept as she described the experience of the past three years, saying she wanted to die after being forced to leave but drew strength from her daughters and from Soto’s support.
“When I see my daughters and how much they went through — you know, as far as for me, I don’t know if I deserve it (to return) or not,” she said. “But my husband, his military service was ignored, and my U.S. citizen kids, they were hurt so much. I think this was unnecessary. We went through all this for no reason, and they didn’t deserve it.”
Juarez said Estela has struggled in school and will have to repeat a grade. She said the family has been “traumatized” and has talked about seeking counseling.
“I’m still fighting,” Juarez said. “I’m still thinking of ways how can I make this permanent because I can’t put my kids through this again. I can’t put my kids through the pain. … This would be the end of my family.”
Soto has sponsored a private bill 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. Temo Juarez served with the Marines in Iraq.
Soto also supports legislation to reform the immigration system and give undocumented residents a route toward citizenship.
Juarez’s return comes at a time when border officials are reporting the largest volume in illegal crossings at the Mexican border in 15 years. Republicans have blamed Biden’s immigration policies for the surge.
Meanwhile, an immigrants-rights organization is using footage shot during Juarez’s reunion with her family in a national ad campaign. FWD.us, which calls itself a bipartisan political organization, created the ad, titled “An American Family Story,” which includes interviews with Pamela and Estela.
This article is written by Gary White from The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2021 The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.