Torn Apart: 13-Year-Old Author Estela Juarez on New Book & Mother’s Deportation
“Until Someone Listens” author Estela Juarez and her mother Alejandra share their story of deportation and separationBy Joshua Bay | October 17, 2022
Estela Juarez clearly remembers the night an immigration officer knocked on her family’s Florida front door and revealed her mother’s secret.
After a 2013 traffic stop exposed her undocumented status, Alejandra Juarez, 43, was confronted by the officer, and eventually deported to Mexico in August 2018 in the wake of the Trump administration’s strict immigration policies.
“Despite my mom being a military wife and having no criminal record she was deported,” Estela, 13, told The 74. “I think it’s very important for people to understand how our immigration laws not only hurt undocumented immigrants, but also the whole family.”
Transforming her childhood love of journal writing, Estela is now sharing her story as the daughter of an undocumented immigrant in “Until Someone Listens,” a children’s book co-written with Lissette Norman.
With illustrations by Teresa Martínez, Estela recalls her mother’s journey to permanently reside in the United States.
After living apart from her family for over three years, the Biden administration granted Alejandra a one-year humanitarian parole, which was recently extended until May 2023.
In the interim, Alejandra has joined Estela’s book tour to not only advocate for her own U.S. residency but also comprehensive immigration reform.
“The feedback we got from a lot of hardcore Republicans and former Donald Trump supporters is that when they hear our story from the perspective of a child, it makes them change their mind,” Alejandra told The 74. “And that’s my hope – by Estela telling her story, immigration rules can change.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The 74: For Estela, tell me more about “Until Someone Listens” and why writing a book was the best way to capture your story.
Estela: I know that there are many kids out there with a similar situation as me. I wanted to create a book in a way where it could inspire other children and let them know there’s somebody out there that’s going through the same situation as you.
What is the key takeaway you would want someone reading “Until Someone Listens” to understand about your story?
Estela: I would like them to know that my story is one of many. And by reading the book, I hope they understand how our immigration laws really, really hurt families.
You write in your book “Some see people like my mom as ugly weeds that need to be plucked out of the dirt. But they’re not weeds. They’re wildflowers, all with pretty shapes and colors, each one a different kind of beauty.” What were your thoughts as you wrote this?
Estela: I know many people think my mom doesn’t deserve to live in this country and be with her family over here. She contributes so much to this country yet most people see her as a criminal – but she’s not a criminal and she’s not causing any harm.
After his election in 2016, former President Donald Trump adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy on undocumented immigrants which placed Alejandra on a high priority deportation list. For Alejandra, tell me more about what was going through your mind when this happened.
Alejandra: The best way to explain to you is that I couldn’t believe it. Even when I got deported, I thought that they were going to bring me back. I thought that they were going to say we made a mistake. It took me a year and a half to realize that it really happened. I just couldn’t believe it. The cruelty of the Trump administration to do that to a stay-at-home mom with no criminal record and, on top of that, a military wife. I couldn’t comprehend it. So much evilness and cruelty.
Your story has been shared through not just a book tour, but also a Netflix documentary and even the Democratic National Convention. With that in mind, what’s something about your story either no one asks or no one realizes it’s important to ask?
Estela: Most people should know that my dad is a military veteran. Despite my mom being a military wife and having no criminal record she was deported. And I think it’s very important for people to understand how our immigration laws not only hurt undocumented immigrants, but also the whole family.
Alejandra: What nobody asks is how many more people like us are out there. People want to believe that there are only a few of us. There are more than a million undocumented people with an American child. So like Estela mentioned before, our story is the same story of too many.
On the topic of your dad Estela and husband Alejandra, I understand that he is a naturalized U.S. citizen, served in the Marines and voted for Trump in 2016 because he thought he would protect military families. What is your hope for the Biden administration in regards to U.S. immigration policies?
Estela: I know this administration has a good heart and I know that they care about military families. I hope that by hearing my story, they can change those broken immigration laws because that’s the only way my mother will be able to stay here permanently. It’s not just important for us but many other families to be reunited again.
Alejandra: I have hope for this administration. I believe that they have the heart and the intention to change their broken immigration laws. I know that Congress needs to act. We did Estela’s first book tour at two schools and we just came back. The feedback we got from a lot of hardcore Republicans and former Donald Trump supporters is that when they hear our story from the perspective of a child, it makes them change their mind. And that’s my hope – by Estela telling her story, immigration rules can change.
You speak about your experiences with so much courage and conviction. Where does your strength come from?
Estela: For me, I started to really use my voice and spread the message about my mom’s story when she was getting deported. I saw how, even after she came back, the trauma she had. It always stays in my mind and really burns my fire to want to continue sharing my story.
Alejandra: I am a very spiritual person and my strength comes from God. There’s no way to fix this unless immigration laws change. I was told by 32 lawyers that there was no way I was going to be able to come back. So the fact that I am back and that I am here thanks to Estela’s video that was featured in the Democratic Convention makes me think that things can change. I mean, if I was able to come back even temporarily then maybe there’s a way we can fix immigration laws permanently. So that gives me the strength and the courage to know that it can be done.
What advice would you give someone in a similar circumstance that’s too scared to share their story?
Estela: If you’re too scared to fight, just know that I am over here fighting for you and I won’t stop until I see more families reunited. Even if by some miracle my mom is allowed to stay here permanently, I will never stop fighting until immigration laws are changed.
Alejandra: The first thing I’d tell them is nothing comes out of being silent. So you have to keep talking. You have to keep writing. One of the things that I have talked to a few kids about when we did school visits is to Google who your local legislator is and send them a letter. By sending them letters we put pressure on legislators to change the laws. The only way you can make sure the laws are going to change is if we put enough pressure and get people to talk.
What do next steps look like as you continue pushing for comprehensive immigration reform?
Estela: I’m currently writing another book for the adult and teenage audience that goes into even more detail about my experience being the daughter of an undocumented immigrant. I also hope to see more child authors sharing their story and to see other people get inspired by my story.
Alejandra: I want Hispanic kids to write and read. That’s the main thing. We need to get more educated. I want first and second generation Hispanic kids to be like “if she could do it, I can do it too.” The fact that we went to a book fair with 50 other authors, only five of them were minorities and Estela was the only child. For me, we need to be an example for kids. And then of course inspire kids to push for immigration laws to change. But the main thing is, we as Hispanic people and as a minority need to get educated and start reading more.
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