Mom has sick husband, baby – and looming deportation to ‘home’ she’s never known

Maria and her son

Maria and her son

More on this story

Bridge Magazine teamed with DPTV Detroit Public Television’s One Detroit to tell the story of Maria Garcia Juarez’s impending deportation to Mexico. Bridge and DPTV, part of the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, will provide continuing coverage of her saga in the weeks ahead.

For more on her story, watch DPTV’s MiWeek with host Christy McDonald and featuring Bridge Magazine’s Chastity Pratt Dawsey on Thursday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m.  

Maria Garcia Juarez hasn’t been to Mexico since she was a baby.

She is now 23. But with wavy, long dark hair, big brown eyes and a petite, delicate stature, the Detroit wife and mother looks more like a teenager than the criminal the U.S. government considers her to be.

Because she stole two cars as a youth, Juarez is to be deported at the end of the month, leaving her leukemia-stricken husband and 18-month-old son behind to fly to one of the most violent areas of Mexico. Juarez has no real destination and no idea when she will be able to get back home to her family in Detroit.

If ever.

While she is gone, her husband is scheduled to receive a stem-cell transplant in hopes of saving his life. And her son, David, is to be evaluated to find out why he does not yet speak words.

Both her husband and son are American citizens. Juarez is not, even though this is the only land she knows.

“This has been my country forever. I don’t know Mexico. I don’t know the first thing about living in Mexico. I grew up here. This is my home,”  said Juarez, who worked as an administrative assistant and lives in Southwest Detroit.

Juarez is among an increasing number of undocumented immigrants deported from Michigan and Ohio since Oct. 1, including more than 750 criminals. Her crime? Six years ago, as a drug-addled teenager in California, she stole a car and led police on a high-speed chase.

Juarez’s case is in no way typical. It is a layered drama complicated by her juvenile record, family ties, her corrupt immigration lawyer who was sentenced to prison, and legal orders sent down by officials working under two separate presidential administrations with vastly different approaches to undocumented immigrants.


Maria Garcia Juarez, 23, was brought illegally to the U.S. when she was eight months old. A deportation order means she will leave behind a U.S. citizen husband struggling with leukemia to care for their baby who also has medical issues.

Her plight, however, illuminates the impact deportation has on families as well as the national debate over U.S. immigration policy.

“I made a mistake, but it should not … define who I am. I was a child,” Juarez said. “I was misguided.”

Juarez’s new attorney, Carine Saleh, said Juarez would’ve been granted permission to stay in America under the policies of the Obama administration based on her husband’s illness and her clean adult criminal record. All of that is speculation. There’s no way to be sure.

But one truth rings clear to Detroit’s immigrant community: The Trump administration has changed immigration policy to ensure all undocumented immigrants are targeted for deportation. The change has coincided with an increase in local deportations that has sparked increased awareness, activism and fear.

“Families are being torn apart. It’s inhumane,” Saleh said.

Officials with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they are merely following the law and Juarez has exhausted her appeal.

“I have determined that pursuing the removal of (Juarez) is the proper enforcement action in this case and is consistent with the core mission of Enforcement and Removal Operations and the enforcement priorities of ICE,” James Jacobs, the assistant field office director for the Detroit ICE office, wrote in a letter to Juarez’s lawyer in April.

Deportations, fear on the rise

Federal immigration policy changed with the presidents this year.

Under the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security’s Priority Enforcement Program in 2014 targeted undocumented immigrants “convicted of significant criminal offenses or who otherwise pose a threat to public safety.” The “priority enforcement program” prioritized deportations, dividing undocumented immigrants into five categories.

At the top of the list for deportation were suspected terrorists, serious felons and those who repeatedly re-entered the country. At the bottom of the list were people who were illegally in the United States but were otherwise law-abiding residents.

Deportations across the country rose from 2009 to 2012, increasing 11 percent to more than 409,000 in 2012 from more than 369,000 in 2008, ICE data show. Deportations declined after the priority program was put into place, falling to about 240,000 in 2016.

The Trump administration abolished the policy and announced that more immigration enforcement officials will be hired to target any and all undocumented immigrants.

Deportations in Michigan and Ohio, the area served by the Detroit-based ICE office, are on track to exceed last year’s numbers. From Oct. 1 to April 8, 1,475 immigrants were deported, including 759 criminals.

In the prior year, 2,056 people were deported including 1,331 criminals. Of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., about 126,000 live in Michigan, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy, a pro-immigration initiative.

ICE doesn’t consider Juarez, who has had no adult criminal record, a threat to national security, Khaalid Walls, a Detroit-based spokesman for ICE, said in an email to Bridge.

Juarez was ordered to leave the country last June, while President Obama was in office. While some appeal processes exist that could allow her to remain in the country, they are long shots.

“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Walls said.

“However, as Secretary (of Homeland Security John) Kelly has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”

In Southwest Detroit, where Juarez and thousands of other immigrants live, activists started preparing for such a change after Trump was elected.

Michigan United, a civil rights group with offices in Southwest Detroit and Kalamazoo, started a “Know Your Rights” effort to inform immigrants about the law and how to respond to law enforcement.

Diego Bonesatti, who is familiar with Juarez’s case, said he expects deportations like hers to increase, as well as raids like the one in March at an illegal cockfighting ring in Southwest Detroit that arrested about 50 undocumented immigrants.

“With this change in priorities and reorientation of resources, you’re going to have less pressure on (immigrant) drug smugglers and human traffickers and people with heavy felonies while they’re grabbing any random undocumented person,” said Bonesatti, director of legal services for Michigan United.

“The signal to me is the priority is just going for raw numbers, so the perception will be that they’re going after the big guns when I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”

Made in America

maria with son

Maria Juarez’s son won’t travel with her to Mexico because it is too violent. She wonders if the boy, David, will remember her.

Juarez was born Maria Guadalupe Garcia in May of 1994 in Guanajuato, Mexico. Her mother crossed the border frequently, traveling between California and Mexico, so two of Juarez’s siblings were born in the United States, and another was born in Mexico.

In fact, Juarez said, her mother was pregnant with her in America, but gave birth to her on a trip back to Mexico.

Juarez grew up in Salinas, known now as the youth murder capital of California. After her mother was arrested and deported in 2009, Juarez and her siblings were taken in by a family friend in Salinas.

As a teen, Juarez said she fell in with the wrong crowd and began using methamphetamines. One morning another teen, who grew up with Juarez, suggested they skip school and “kick it,” court documents show. Soon Juarez was behind the wheel of a stolen car, drugs racing through her body, and leading police on a 100-mph chase.

With no parental guidance or attention, it was her second arrest for stealing a car. And the other teen who was in the car was a known gang member, so Juarez found herself labeled a gang member and shipped to an ICE facility in Virginia to face deportation.  

On her 18th birthday, in 2012, she was released to live with an aunt in Taylor, Michigan, outside of Detroit.

Attorney Charles Busse was hired by Juarez’s family to help her fight the deportation case. As the years passed, she worked several jobs, paid to attend classes at Baker College and met construction worker Erick Orozco at a party.

A relationship grew after he asked her friend on Snapchat, “Who’s your friend?” The two married in 2016.

Busse had filed a case asking that Juarez get political asylum, but it was denied. Due to her juvenile record, she is not eligible for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that often allows undocumented young immigrants to remain in the U.S. if they arrived before age 16.

Over the past several months, Juarez’s problems began to mount.

In June, she was ordered to voluntarily leave the country. She appealed, but the case was rejected in January. That same month, her husband was struck with leukemia for the second time in his life.

Based upon her husband’s illness, Juarez filed for a delay of her removal with hopes of remaining in the country, arguing that her deportation would be a hardship to her sick husband.

On April 6, her request was denied.  She was told she had until the end of May to leave the country. ICE has discretion to decide whether to detain undocumented immigrants who are scheduled for deportation.

Instead of detaining Juarez, ICE officials locked a tether on her ankle to monitor her location until she gets on a plane and flies to Mexico.

Lawyer jailed, case stalled

As Juarez’s life was spiraling, the lawyer who started her immigration case, Charles Busse, was indicted for immigration fraud and bribing immigration officials. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison this month.  

Patricia J. Sullivan, an immigration law attorney based in Livonia and a past president of the Michigan chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said Juarez’s final legal option may be to file an emergency appeal to reopen her case based on Busse’s conviction.

There’s no indication that Busse committed fraud or bribery in connection with Juarez’s case, but she may be able to prove he provided her negligent counsel, said Sullivan, who is not involved in her case.

“Is that hard to do? Yes. The immigration docket is backlogged three to four years,” Sullivan said. “If someone works hard and works fast there’s a possibility” she can get her case considered.

Foreigner here, foreigner there

Amid the legal wrangling, Juarez is preparing for the unknown.

She tries not to think about leaving her home for a country where she knows no one. Her family has reached out to far-flung relatives in Mexico hoping for a ride from the airport, a couch to sleep on or a lead on a job.

As for her mother? She could be dead or alive. Juarez said she hasn’t been heard from since 2009. And her dad was never around.

Juarez’s sister, Jocelyne Garcia, 21, worries she’ll be a target for violence in Mexico.

“It’s really heartbreaking to see they’re taking away this opportunity for her to succeed, to be with her family,” said Garcia, who lives in Detroit and is a U.S. citizen.

maria immigration file

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, does not consider Maria Garcia Juarez to be a threat to national security, but under the new administration’s orders all undocumented immigrants are to be treated the same - whether suspected terrorists or law-abiding workers.

Juarez does little these days beyond caring for her son and husband. She changes the bandage on her husband’s arm that covers the needle he uses to hook into chemotherapy.

He’s too weak to go to his job as a cement construction worker. Until she was placed on a tether, Juarez worked as an administrative assistant at a chiropractor’s office.

Money is tight and dwindling. Relatives are raking together what money they can spare to help Juarez get by in Mexico.

Her husband Erick expects to be in a hospital getting a stem cell transplant in a few weeks. He has family nearby and tears up when asked how he will raise their son or make a life after his wife is deported.

Mexico is no place for a child if there’s no money or income, Juarez said. So David will stay behind in Detroit.

Maria Juarez doesn’t know if her son will remember her. He can’t talk yet. Doctors will test him when he’s two-years-old for cognitive and speech delays.

She likely will miss all of that.  

“I’m scared for myself,” Juarez said. “I’m scared for my family most of all.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of the city where Maria Juarez was born and her husband's last name. She was born in Guanajuato, Mexico and her husband's last name is Orozco.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Katherine Walker
Thu, 05/11/2017 - 8:57am

Sad to say, Welcome to the Resistance, folks. We are going to need a system like the Underground Railroad to hide people and/or get them to Canada until democracy is restored. I can't risk it myself with an 11 year old with ADHD (loose lips, you know), but there are people who can.

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 12:32am

As long it has to be your way and no other then it will be a battle each time a situation like this arises. Change for the better will happen only when people start to consider others and their perspectives and have a conversation about how we can address the concerns of each other.

The situation describe in this article could be easily address if people didn't want to make it include all illegals. I am sure if this case were allowed there would be a clamor for cases not as sad to be given the same treatment, and each time one was allowed there would be more cries for other cases, it would be never ending with the potential for really bad unintended consequences.

I apologize, but we can see how unrestricted 'good intention' overpowers all other 'good intentions', they simply overwhelm those who want to consider the unintended consequences , the practical impact, before making changes, so it drives people with compassion to say no even though they truly want to help.
If you want to see the reality of uncontrolled 'good intention', look to Europe and what the unintended consequences of mass unfettered immigration are having.

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 10:02am

Excellent point, Duane.

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 9:11am

Difficult cases make bad law, and this difficult case should not lead to a change in the law. Assuming this report is accurate, it's obvious this woman's juvenile record should be sealed and her current status... as well as that of her family... should exempt her from deportation. I would expect that, once the facts are before an administrative law judge, this is what will happen. Publicizing her status is useful in bringing attention to her particular situation; sensationalizing isn't necessary. It's nice that she's young and attractive, but adding that to the article is a distracting attempt to make her more a more sympathetic figure than she already is.

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 9:13am

If we dont like the laws, change them dont disregard or ignor them. Illegal means not legal, which should have consequences.

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 12:46pm

Well said. Agree 100%.

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 2:28am

Well stated!

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 9:25am

How does immigration law work for applying to become an American citizen? Is she not eligible because of the arrest when she was a teen?

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 9:52am

If she just had $0.5m to buy into a Trump property eh?

lee kirk
Thu, 05/11/2017 - 9:43am

"America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great."
Alexis de Tocqueville
This woman's deportation cannot in any way be called "good." I cannot think of how deporting her, separating her from her husband and young child (both of whom are citizens) can be justified.
I find this quote from an ICE official particularly disturbing: “I have determined that pursuing the removal of (Juarez) is the proper enforcement action in this case and is consistent with the core mission of Enforcement and Removal Operations and the enforcement priorities of ICE.” He gives no explanation of how Ms. Juarez's removal is consistent with ICE's mission, or how it enhances national security. Her juvenile offenses, ironically but not surprisingly, came after her mother was deported.
Justice must be tempered by mercy, or else there is no justice. Maria Juarez and her family deserve that type of justice, the type of justice that any nation that calls itself "good" provides to all.

Sun, 05/14/2017 - 5:49pm

You do realize that when Alexis de Tocqueville was touring America and writing about its greatness people were responsible for their own survival, there was no safety net, if one were sick or hungry it was up to them whether they survived, no work no food, no shelter, no clothes.

He was talking about the American greatness because of opportunity and people working to take advantage of the opportunities, he was talking about people had the freedom to make their choices knowing full well that they would live with the consequences of their choices, their energy, their work, the intellect. This was a time when people were call pioneers because they went off into the wilderness [many to never be heard of again] to make their lives.

If you are going to use such quotes, next time please consider the context of the quote.

From Alexis de Tocqueville to today it has been the industry and responsibility of people willing to take responsibility for themselves and risk what they had to create the abundance we have today.

As sad as this case is I am offended when people condemn the whole of our country based on such a case. This is the most generous and giving society in the world, it is the people of this country that gave liberty/freedom to the world, it is still the country that provides more for the rest of the world and yet we as a people are condemned because of such a case.

We are human and we have conflict, we are not the doting parents of the everyone else in the world, proving them with all they want when they want it. We don't have limitless bounty, we don't have the capacity to bring every poor unfortunate person and their familiy here and still have a here to bring them to.

If you want to 'US' to help this family first you have to be willing to have a conversation, listen and talk about the unintended consequences of you moral compassion and the concerns and thoughts of those who you so disdain. If not, you are simply facilitating the wallowing sty we call Washington where it is all about what the losers want and nothing about what the people want.

I apologize if this seems harsh but much like the 'Missouri' mule it take a certain touch to get its attention before their is any hope of getting them to work on the problem.

Fri, 05/26/2017 - 9:48pm

"You do realize that when Alexis de Tocqueville was touring America and writing about its greatness people were responsible for their own survival, there was no safety net, if one were sick or hungry it was up to them whether they survived, no work no food, no shelter, no clothes. "

...and blacks were slaves...

Sun, 07/02/2017 - 11:46am

Tolerance and Apathy are the last virtues of a dying society.

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 9:47am

This is just one more demonstration of cruelty to humans and to this woman who was brought to this country as a baby who had no say in how and when she got to the US.

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 8:25am

Are you referring to her parents who cruelly and illegally brought her here as an child? I believe we need immigrants and their labor but without rule of law what do we have?

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 10:23am

And she has been in this country how long? And she never applied for citizenship or any other process that would let her be here legally? Then I am sorry but she must go and get in line with all those trying to legally stay here. As for separation, her husband and her baby are welcome to return to Mexico with her if they desire.

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 12:23pm

She can't apply for citizenship if she didn't have papers allowing her to be here, such as a green card. And she couldn't apply as a minor, even if she did have papers. As the article explains she would be eligible for DACA, except for the stupid teenager incidents of car theft. So yeah, she messed up big time as a kid! But under her current family circumstances and given her clean adult record is it morally right to deport her? No, but the law doesn't allow for a moral decision -- just a legal one. That's the sad state of American immigration law and our deadlocked Congress refuses to take the high ground and fix it.

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 10:44am

I think we should ignore whatever our laws are regarding immigration, and we should allow anybody who wants to be in the U.S. to enter regardless of those who are waiting in line for legal citizenship, regardless of whether or not they are employable, whether or not they will assimilate, whether or not they will follow the laws of our country, and whether or not they wish to do harm to citizens or property here.

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 8:27am

And we shouldn't be legally forced to pay our taxes either!!!

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 12:44pm

Oh please, stop the crocodile tears. Illegal aliens are ILLEGAL. How much you want to bet she and her family are on welfare. She never tried to become legal? Is her husband also illegal? If not, why didn't she try and do the right thing when getting married and apply? How much did she cost the system when as "a kid" broke the law? All bleeding hearts could step-up and take care of her and help her while she is in Mexico (as long as it takes) and take the burden of her and family off the tax payers (like me). Deport her now.

Fri, 05/19/2017 - 9:52pm

She never tried to become legal because, as someone who was brought here illegally, there was/is no process for her to become legal, regardless of whether she is married to a U.S. citizen. A clean record would not have changed that. She would only be eligible if she had come legally as a tourist etc.
(but such visas are generally only granted to people with money and property, which is why the poor sometimes come illegally). Also, she is not, nor has she ever been, on welfare, as immigrants are not eligible until they have held a green card for more than 5 years. Her U.S. citizen husband is certainly on welfare now, but likely wouldn't be if she were allowed to return to work to support him. In addition to supporting her now indigent husband and paying his $100,000 or so yearly medical bill, our tax dollars have also paid at least $100,000 (likely much more) over the past 6 years to achieve her deportation.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 05/11/2017 - 1:04pm

So she just stole a car?

Well, that's a relief!

I mean it's not as if she was a recidivistic drunk driver, serial sexual predator or even a Cop Killer.

The script kiddies over at Gravity Works running The Bridge's website apparently screwed up the HTML feature here again, so the relevant links are below.

And, I'm sure that the owners of the cars that she stole are now feeling so bad that she's getting shipped back to Mexico.

Let me bottom line this: We already have too many criminals here in America right now. An obvious fact that Mrs. Dawsey should already be aware of since she covers Detroit. We don't need to add to that problem by bringing in even more, or letting those already here continue to stay.

Adding insult to injury, what does Mrs. Dawsey say to those who do go through the process to become an American legally? Those who pay the fees? Who submit to the background checks? Who demonstrate by their actions how they can be an asset, instead of making people wonder what they'll do if they are allowed to stay?

Thu, 05/11/2017 - 4:12pm

Kevin Grand,
Well Said,
Although I tend to have a passionate heart for most legitimate situations, I don't see this as legitimate. Sorry to say "Get in line with those who follow the law."
Stories like this would not happen in foreign countries. Only in America.
I too , find it ironic that Mrs. Dawsey's article lacks support for our laws.

Tough Love
Thu, 05/11/2017 - 6:02pm

This is a self inflicted hardship starting in California years ago.
There is a crime involved. Waiting 22 years to enforce the law. Democrats are the villains. Her currrnt situation has nothing to do with her criminal status. That is emphasized for emotion only. The sympathy card is being played hard.
Why is Juarez such a nasty place? Mexico did it not the US. Let her husband and child go with her.

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 8:18am

WHY? #1 she's illegal, # 2 A felon, #3 she's still illegal.

Fri, 05/12/2017 - 5:09pm

Glad to see you've totally adopted the Trump (Inc) 'Fear & Hatred' campaign. That's what is all about, right? You're Native American, right?
Trump and his family are true American Heroes and have fought for our country in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq. Medals of Honor, etc.
Also dead animals in Africa,
Thank you for your service to our country,

ms "o"
Sat, 05/13/2017 - 9:46am

It's really STRANGE, but what I don't hear is the condemnation of companies like "white-owned, corporate boards" such as Tyson, Swift, etc, that have for YEARS exploited undocumented immigrants by using the "guest visa program" to bring in "cheap labor" to clean hotel rooms, serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, cook, cut grass and shrubs, park cars, round up chickens, slaughter hogs, pick tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, onions, etc. And doing so by ADVERTISING these jobs in Mexican papers, providing transportation from Mexico to the United States and setting up massive "trailer parks" on company properties where these "illegals" can live jammed up 25 - 50 in one trailer, taking turns sleeping based on the completion of their work-shift.

What I don't read in the comments is how these corporations, named above, ARRANGE for immigration officers (ICE) to go out to the trailer parks once a month, in the middle of the night, and conduct ICE raids, at random, and deport workers that have been working in inhumane conditions for 10 to 15 years to help get immigration raid numbers up, while NOT becoming too disruptive of the factory schedule of production.

What I haven't read in the comments is the multiple TRILLION DOLLAR penalties these corporations have AVOIDED paying for breaking the same immigration laws that govern this mother from the REGAN Administration through and including G.W. Bush's Administration. Yet, the comments made regarding this article heaps the U.S. citizen tax "burden" on undocumented immigrants alone. How naive!!! Or, is it BLATANT IGNORANCE????

This article clearly states the American husband worked in construction, and this young mother worked as an administrative assistant. Does that not count as "making a productive life for yourself?" While I do NOT condone the juvenile crime of stealing cars and using drugs, I can understand that when your MOTHER is deported, and your father is NO WHERE AROUND, as a CHILD, you MAY get into the "bad habit" of hangin' with the wrong crowd.

But, let us also score, how MUCH of American society's "traditions", "values", and "social norms", put her "feet" on that path as a teenager? By that I mean, the " American cultural norms and expectations" of teens are going to rebel, usurp parental authority, exert their independence from parental authority???

For those of you that have such "hard-core" thoughts about her juvenile criminal past, you would be the FIRST parents in a U.S. Courtroom, with a lawyer ARGUING that your OWN child, just needs "therapy", not prison. Give me a break from the hypocrisy!!!!!

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 7:27pm

When she was 18 why wasn't she deported instead of moving to metro-Detroit to move in with an Aunt. Where was her Dad when she was growing up? Was she off the drugs when she was pregnant? Why didn't the Aunt from Taylor and husband help her with applying for citizenship after she got married? Why didn't her family look into getting her back to Mexico when she started acting out or visit Mexico. When did her family quit traveling back and forth between the USA and Mexico?

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 7:26pm

Your chances are very good at being caught and then deported. Do yourself a favor and select where to wish to go in Mexico now and go. Don't get caught here or you will really gum up your chances of ever coming here and I mean EVER. YOU WILL NEVER BE LEGAL THEN.

Also worth noting. There is really no way they will provide blanket amnesty anymore. The reason is the politicians need people living in the shadows paying taxes even under an assumed social security number illegally because the system has been robbed and there is no money in it.

But to extend this problem beyond their time in office you need millions of people augmenting this insolvent system further down the road.