The illegal immigrant mother whom Democrats used at their convention this week as a case study of cruelty in President Trump’s policies was deported under the Clinton administration and flagged for deportation under the Obama-Biden administration.
Alejandra Juarez first sneaked into the U.S. in 1998. She was caught at the border and deported back to Mexico.
She quickly sneaked back into the U.S. — a “felony act” — and remained in the shadows until a traffic stop in 2013 when she appeared on the radar of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Experts said an Obama-era initiative expanding the use of local police fingerprint checks to aid deportations likely flagged Mrs. Juarez for ICE.
At that point, the Obama Homeland Security Department had a choice. It could have shown leniency but instead reinstated her deportation order from 1998, putting her on the path to deportation that the Trump Homeland Security Department carried out in 2018.
“It wasn’t Trump that went out and found this woman. It was Biden,” said Andrew R. “Art” Arthur, a former immigration judge who now is a senior fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.
Mrs. Juarez’s daughter, 11-year-old Estela, sees it differently.
“Every day that passes, you deport more moms and dads and take them away from kids like me,” she said in a video address Wednesday to the Democratic National Convention, just minutes before former President Barack Obama spoke and a day before former Vice President Joseph R. Biden claimed the party’s 2020 presidential nomination.
Estela put the blame squarely on Mr. Trump.
“My mom is gone, and she’s been taken from us for no good reason,” the girl said in a video that went viral online.
Mrs. Juarez’s situation lies at several crosscurrents in the tricky immigration debate.
She married a U.S. military veteran, which in the eyes of many Americans should have been insurance from deportation.
Before her marriage, though, she entered the U.S. three times without permission. The first time, on May 21, 1998, during the Clinton administration, she wrongly claimed to be a U.S. citizen, ICE says. She was arrested, given an expedited order of removal and deported to Mexico.
Two days later, she tried again, ICE says, once again lying to officers by claiming she was a U.S. citizen. She quickly admitted the lie and, in immigration jargon, “withdrew her application” to enter the country.
According to news accounts, she waited a few more days before sneaking in, this time undetected.
She would go on to meet a Marine veteran, Temo Juarez, a Mexican citizen who was in the U.S. legally. According to a detailed account in Stars and Stripes, they spent the next two decades trying to find ways for Mrs. Juarez to legalize her status, but her initial deportation order and her quick moves to sneak back into the U.S. prevented it.
Mrs. Juarez’s immigration attorney told The Associated Press in 2018 that she did not intend to lie in 1998 and that border officers misunderstood what she was saying about prior ties to the U.S.
The Washington Times reached out to the lawyer Thursday for more details but did not hear back.
In 2013, Mrs. Juarez came to the attention of ICE after an encounter with police in Iowa.
Experts said it’s likely she was flagged by Secure Communities, an initiative begun under the Bush administration but vastly expanded by the Obama administration and then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Under Secure Communities, every local or state police agency that ran fingerprints through the FBI was also sharing the data with Homeland Security, giving ICE a chance to spot illegal immigrants it wanted to deport.
In Mrs. Juarez’s case, it was the 2013 encounter in Iowa that alerted Homeland Security to a deported migrant who reentered the U.S. without permission. ICE then renewed the 1998 deportation order.
Mr. Arthur said ICE could have gone another route and put Mrs. Juarez in regular deportation proceedings, which could have given her a chance to make a case for relief. She also could have filed an asylum claim at any point. She now says she wanted to do that in 1998 but didn’t know how.
“You can blame the Trump administration all you want. The problem is the Obama administration decided to reinstate the prior order,” Mr. Arthur said.
Under the Obama administration, ICE required Mrs. Juarez to check in and slow-walked her deportation but made no move to close her case and give her finality. When Mr. Trump took office, ICE began to crack down on loose-end cases in which illegal immigrants were defying deportation orders.
As Mrs. Juarez’s August 2018 deportation deadline neared, she became a major national cause.
Rep. Darren Soto, Florida Democrat, has introduced what is known as a private bill in Congress. If passed, it could grant Mrs. Juarez a green card, canceling her deportation orders and giving her a ticket back into the U.S.
He introduced legislation in 2018, when the House was under Republican control, and again last year, after Democrats took control. None of his colleagues has signed onto the bill, and it has never advanced out of subcommittee under either party.
Mr. Soto’s communications director didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Times on Thursday.
The family’s backers argue that the subsequent marriage should have made a difference in canceling the deportation. ICE said she was already in arrears at the time of the marriage because she had been deported and sneaked back in. Illegal reentry is a felony punishable by up to two years in prison, though barring exceptional circumstances another deportation is the more common consequence.
Estela, the 11-year-old daughter, said her father voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 but won’t do so this year.
In 2018, when his wife was being deported, he took a more charitable approach to the president, according to Fox 35 in Orlando, Florida.
“I don’t blame him at all because the laws were already on the books, so he was just enforcing them,” Mr. Juarez told the station.
At Wednesday’s session of the DNC, the party interspersed Estela’s presentation with video clips of Mr. Trump, suggesting that he was targeting her mother and others like her.
In one clip played over Estela, Mr. Trump says in August 2016 that “we will begin moving them out Day One.”
What Mr. Trump was actually talking about at that point in the 2016 speech, however, was his commitment to deport illegal immigrants with criminal records. There is no indication that Mrs. Juarez has a criminal record.
At another point during Estela’s presentation, Democrats played a video of Mr. Trump saying, “They’re animals.” In that clip, Mr. Trump was referring specifically to members of MS-13, a violent, mostly immigrant gang known for its propensity to use machetes to kill. Mr. Trump has repeatedly referred to MS-13 members as “animals.”
The Obama administration set records for deportations, but Mr. Biden has distanced himself from those numbers and called the policy a mistake.
He has promised to halt deportations immediately upon taking office and to work on a pathway to citizenship for all of the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the country.
His pick for vice president, Sen. Kamala D. Harris, once compared U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to the Ku Klux Klan and flirted with abolishing the agency. She has since backed off that idea.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump has staked out the most aggressive stance against illegal immigration of any major party nominee in modern history. As president, he has also significantly curtailed legal migration.
The issue offers one of the starkest contrasts of the election, with Democrats convinced that Mr. Trump has overplayed his hand.
Democrats on Wednesday also featured the Sanchez family, a mother and two daughters, only one of whom has legal status after being born in the U.S.
The mother, Sylvia, said she sneaked across the border years ago with her elder daughter, who was less than 1 year old at the time, because she had spina bifida and doctors predicted she wouldn’t survive.
Ms. Sanchez figured she would be able to get lifesaving care by sneaking into the U.S.
“I did what any mother would do to save her daughter’s life,” Ms. Sanchez said in Spanish. She said she held her daughter aloft as they crossed the Rio Grande.