WASHINGTON – A Florida congressman Wednesday said he is renewing his fight to protect undocumented spouses of active-duty military and veterans from deportation.
Democrat Darren Soto’s bill to mandate that marriage to a member or veteran of the armed forces be a factor in shielding a person from deportation died in the last Congress.
Soto said he was inspired by the story of Alejandra Juarez, the wife of a Marine veteran and mother of two girls, who was deported to Mexico in August as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
“It was heartbreaking to be there that day when literally the Juarez family was divided,” Soto said, describing Juarez’s deportation.
As a teenager, Juarez fled violence in Mexico and crossed illegally into the United States, where she was caught and forced to sign an order saying she would be banned from the U.S. forever if she returned in less than five years. After only a few days, however, she successfully crossed the border.
Until last year, Juarez was able to remain in the country by virtue of her marriage to an American citizen and regular check-ins with immigration officials. But under the Trump administration’s expanded policy on deportation, Juarez was unable to amend her status and was chosen to be removed from the country.
Juarez’s situation is not unique. According to an April report by American Families United, as many as 11,800 service members have a family member who is facing deportation.
“We are here to fight [for Juarez] and for many other military spouses,” said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said. “They need it and they deserve it.”
Gallego is a co-sponsor of the bill.
Juarez’s daughter Pamela said she constantly worries about her mother and her sister, who is with their mom in Mexico. Both daughters were born in the U.S., making them citizens.
“By sending her away, they did not just scare me and my sister for life,” Pamela Juarez said. “They also punished a Marine veteran. Why would this country want to do that?”
Gallego, a former Marine himself, emphasized the importance of family to service members and called on his fellow lawmakers to enact what he called “common-sense legislation.”
“We should be focusing on the people that are dangerous to this country” and not military spouses who have settled in the country and started new lives, Gallego said. “It’s a shame.”
Rep. Mark Takano, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called Trump’s policy a “great injustice.”
“Congress can and must do more for our veterans and their families who have made countless sacrifices for our nation,” Takano said.
Each speaker highlighted Juarez’s story and Soto said the House may take up legislation to address her situation specifically.