WASHINGTON — Sgt. Temo Juarez was a Trump guy. An Iraq combat veteran who served as a Marine infantryman and then an Army National Guardsman, his friends called him a "super conservative." With his wife, he brought up their two daughters in Central Florida. He supported Trump in 2016, eager for a change.
But now, "I am eating my words," he told the military newspaper Stars and Stripes in an interview published last week.
On Friday, Juarez and his family became the latest victims of Trump's zero-tolerance policy on immigration.
On that day, his wife, Alejandra, left the country under a deportation order. She had come to the United States from Mexico illegally as a teenager two decades ago and had until now been living undisturbed with Temo, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and daughters, both natural-born Americans. This week, Temo will fly to Mexico with his daughters, 9-year-old Estela and 16-year-old Pamela — and leave his younger daughter there, even though English is her first language. He can't do his construction job and take care of her in Florida by himself.
Temo Juarez believed Trump would deport only illegal immigrants who were criminals, and his wife had no record.
Instead, as the family fought Alejandra's deportation, young Estela, with unicorns on her T-shirt, wept as she spoke to TV cameras: "I really do want to stay with my mom and dad. I want us to be together and stay in my house. I don't want to go to Mexico. I want to stay here."
For Sgt. Juarez, this was the Trump administration's unique way of saying, "Thank you for your service."
Trump's "family separation" policy is most visible on the border. Last week, the administration said it still had not reunited 572 immigrant children it separated from their parents. The administration, in a court filing last week, said it should be up to the American Civil Liberties Union — the group that sued over family separation — to locate the parents.
But, as the Juarez case shows, the wanton cruelty of the immigration policy isn't limited to new arrivals. "Zero tolerance literally ripped this family apart," Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., the Juarezes' congressman, told me Monday. "The administration is so extreme on immigration that they're deporting the spouses of military veterans."
Soto and colleagues introduced legislation and wrote letters to help the Juarez family. No use.
At political rallies, Trump often exults: "Oh, do we love our veterans!" He also talks about illegal immigrants who "infest" the country.
In real life, the ones Trump loves and the ones Trump demonizes are not so far apart. Immigration and Customs Enforcement tells me it doesn't track the number of military spouses subjected to deportation. But the advocacy group American Families United, extrapolating from census figures, estimates there are as many as 11,800 active-duty military service members with a spouse or family member vulnerable to deportation. And that doesn't include veterans' families.
Since the Marquis de Lafayette during the Revolutionary War, and the Irish Brigade during the Civil War, immigrants have had a central role in the U.S. military. That's true now, too, says Jon Soltz, an Iraq veteran who founded the group VoteVets. If zero tolerance is enforced, he said, it will feel as if "everybody has a family member who is affected."
As many as 1,000 foreign nationals, recruited to the military for their critical language or medical skills, face potential discharge over delays in background checks. The Trump administration's removal of protected status for Salvadorans and Haitians means many more military family members will face deportation. Many veterans themselves have been deported because of missed application deadlines.
ICE, in a statement, says it "removed Alejandra Juarez, a citizen and national of Mexico, to her home country." ICE said she had attempted in 1998 to enter the country by falsely claiming she was a U.S. citizen and was issued an "expedited order of removal."
She returned, illegally, and remained without incident until a traffic stop led ICE to reinstate her removal order in 2013. But the Obama administration did not prioritize the deportation of military family members.
These are different times.
Juarez hasn't spoken much in public about his family's ordeal. But in the Stars and Stripes interview, he spoke about preparing his daughters for the impending family separation. "I've been preaching to them you've got to be mentally tough — pretty much what they teach you in the Army," he said.
But nothing the military taught him could have prepared him for the cruelty his country just inflicted on his family.