One Florida family was sobbing at the Orlando International Airport on Friday as a mother of two prepared to board a flight to Mexico. Alejandra Juarez, a military veteran's wife, faced deportation after two decades in the U.S. The efforts to keep her in the country included a sustained push by her Democratic congressman, Rep. Darren Soto; a "parole in place" application; and public pleas in the media to President Donald Trump.
"I am very disillusioned by how [Trump] has treated my husband," Juarez told reporters at the airport, via Stars And Stripes, a military-centered publication. "I don’t know, maybe I deserve for it for the way I came in, but his wife is an immigrant. She had the luck to get papers easily, not me."
But what brought Juarez and her family to this tearful goodbye? Juarez's story starts with a lack of understanding of the American immigration system back when she was a teenager. Juarez illegally entered the country in 1998, according to The Guardian. Her attorney, Richard Maney, told The Guardian that Juarez was accused of lying about her citizenship at the border during that fateful stop. During this stop, Juarez was given a document in English to sign, according to Stars And Stripes.
By signing the document, Juarez avoided federal prison time, but the document meant Juarez signed away her possibilities to a path to citizenship or residency in America in the future, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
"This is not going to be the last case like this," Maney told The Guardian. "There are many military spouses in the same situation."
Juarez later re-entered the country in 2000 without being stopped, and was married to Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Juarez shortly thereafter, according to the newspaper. The pair went on to have two daughters, both born in America.
Temo is a naturalized citizen, originally from Mexico, and a former Marine Corps sergeant. During his time with the military in the 90s, Temo deployed to Albania, Africa and parts of South America, according to the Military Times. Temo then joined the Army National Guard, and was deployed to Iraq in 2003. His eldest daughter was only a year old. (Their daughters are now 8 and 16 years old, according to CNN.)
Together, the two built a life in Florida. When Juarez was pulled over for a traffic stop in 2013, her immigration status was discovered, according to The Associated Press. But because of the Obama administration's immigration policy, Juarez wasn't considered a top priority for deportation. In fact, according to Reuters, Juarez was told to "check in" twice a year with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This all changed when the Trump administration introduced the so-called zero-tolerance immigration policy which instructs federal prosecutors to treat illegal border crossings as criminal acts, instead of civil offenses. This includes Juarez's case.
Another element to this story is Juarez's husband's politics. Temo told reporters he voted for Trump, according to Reuters. He also told reporters he didn't think this would speed up Juarez's deportation. "I ate my words," Temo told the Orlando Sentinel. "Obviously, when Trump came in, everybody is [a] priority now."
Rep. Soto wrote letters to Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis ICE in support of Juarez. He also introduced legislation to stop her deportation and grant Juarez permanent residency, according to CNN. It didn't get enough votes.
Juarez told the Orlando Sentinel that the family has already spent thousands on lawyers to still reach this conclusion. "I've done everything humanly possible that I could have done to stay — over $20,000 spent on immigration lawyers," she said.
The family told reporters that they thought her husband's veteran status would help them appeal to Trump. "Mr. President by deporting me, you are not only making me suffer, you are making a veteran suffer," she told reporters.
Instead, Juarez boarded a flight for Mexico on Friday. Her youngest daughter — an American citizen — will join her later because Temo frequently travels for work, according to The Associated Press.