POLK COUNTY, Fla. — A military veteran from Polk County is asking lawmakers to help reunite his family after his wife was deported to Mexico more than a year ago.
- Marine Temo Juarez's wife Alejandra was deported in August 2018
- Rep. Darren Soto presented a bill to help military spouses gain citizenship
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Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Juarez could not help but shed tears when he watched his wife, Alejandra, leave the U.S. with his youngest daughter, Estela, 7, on August 3, 2018.
“I thought I was going to keep it together and not cry,” Cuauhtemoc said.
Temo became a naturalized citizen in 2002, but his wife was an illegal immigrant.
Alejandra came into the country without documents when she was 18 in 1998. She told Spectrum News she lied to immigration officers when she was caught, just like her smuggler told her to.
She said when officials realized she did not tell the truth, Alejandra was told to sign documents in English — a language she could not speak at the time.
The paperwork came to haunt the family, because Alejandra said the documents banned her from staying in the country.
In 2013, she was pulled over during a traffic stop, exposing her legal status.
“It’s one stupid paper that keeps me away from my family,” Alejandra said.
Afterward, she checked in with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials twice a year, because she was a low-risk priority target.
Alejandra said because of the President Donald Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy, ICE agents presented her with a notice of deportation in 2018.
It was a moment Alejandra said she hoped wasn’t real.
Temo and Alejandra decided Estela should go with her mother, because they said Temo, who is a construction worker, is constantly out of town for work.
“Every day she misses her dad,” Alejandra told Spectrum News.
“It’s obviously hard not see her grow up, and miss all those school days,” Temo said.
Their oldest daughter, Pamela, 17, stayed with her father to finish high school and said it’s sad to think her mother may not even see her graduate next year.
“I would cry every single day after my mom left,” Pamela said.
Pamela sleeps in her sister’s room surrounded by the memories of the pink princess.
“(Estela) was the one that made the house very positive, and now that she’s not here, it’s very quiet,” Pamela said.
Temo is a Marine and National Guard veteran. He said he always knew family separation was a possibility, but he hoped it would never happened.
He told us he tries to remain strong for his family.
“If they see me down all the time all the time, worry or in pain, it’s going to be hard on them,” Temo said. “I don’t want them to see me like that. I want them to be optimistic, positive.”
He said the financial toll also wears on him.
Since 2001, the family has spent around $20,000 in legal fees to avoid this situation. Temo also works to send money to keep a roof over his wife and daughter’s head, and to pay for Estela’s private schooling in Mexico.
All four of them have only reunited just four times since they were separated.
“When they leave again, I get depressed,” Alejandra said. “So, I told him just don’t come — just don’t come anymore. I can’t stand the torture. You come and you leave.”
Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida) presented a bill and sponsored another in Congress that will help the Juarez family and other military spouses gain citizenship.
“Spouses of active military veterans will be able to apply for citizenship and get priority status, even if they may have had some issues while entering the country unlawfully,” Soto said.
“It will be like what we have been praying for (if it were to pass),” Alejandra said. “If you think about it, I’ve been banned for life so that means, (right now), I’ll never be able to go back.”