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'We Don't Have Much, but This Is Our Home'

Kristian Hernández, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

Juana’s landlord filed another eviction case against her and her husband after the denial. In early June, Juana joined her husband and went before Justice of the Peace Sarah Martinez. They arrived at 9 a.m. sharp and were escorted to a small office where the judge’s staff told them where they could find free legal aid. But Juana told Stateline that the groups she called told her that as an unauthorized immigrant, she was ineligible.

Martinez said she could not help them because the state’s eviction moratorium had expired, and it was completely up to her landlord whether to proceed with the eviction, according to Juana.

Had Juana lived in just about any other state, she might have been protected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s moratorium, which runs through July 31. But Texas ended its moratorium this spring and declared the CDC order invalid.

“I told her we’d never missed a payment until COVID-19 came barging into our house,” Juana said, recalling the hearing. “We didn’t invite it in; we didn’t go out looking for it.”

The judge ruled in favor of the landlord and set a date of June 9 for the company to file a writ of possession, according to court documents.

A Tip from TV

Juana cried all the way home. Her husband tried to comfort her, promising he’d find a place for them to live temporarily. That afternoon they rented a storage room and began packing. On Sunday morning, Juana was filling boxes with the television on in the background when Univision’s “Contigo en la Comunidad Dallas” show came on.

A segment focused on rental assistance. Juana didn’t pay much attention, knowing she’d been denied, but when a representative from United Way of Metropolitan Dallas said the money was available for immigrants living in the country without legal permission, she picked up her phone and took a picture of the website on the bottom of the screen.

She learned that Catholic Charities was helping people apply in her area and called them. When she told them she faced a writ of possession order in two weeks, they told her to show up at a pop-up event in north Dallas the following Saturday.

On Friday night, Juana couldn’t sleep. Instead, she prayed and counted the planes as they flew in and out of nearby Dallas Love Field airport. Shortly before sunrise, she woke her husband and told him they should leave immediately to beat the expected crowds.

 

When they showed up at 7 a.m., there were already two couples ahead of them.

Juana and her husband were greeted by Spanish-speaking volunteers who helped check their documents and fill out the application. It took them no more than 45 minutes to process not only her rental relief but also to get her money to pay for her water bill, which was also past due.

“It was so easy, and everyone made me feel so welcome,” Juana said. “I call them my guardian angels because I was lost without them.”

Juana told them about her pending writ of possession the coming Friday and they promised to expedite her application and keep her posted on any progress. The only documents Juana and her husband were missing when their application was submitted were letters explaining how they’d been financially affected by COVID-19 and proving employment.

“We were hopeful but also mentally prepared if we were denied again,” Juana said. “But I knew God was watching over us.”

As she packed, she remembered all the memories she and her husband had shared in the 700 square feet of their apartment. The day she found out about her transplant, the times her children and grandchildren came to visit from Mexico and would sleep spread out all over the living room floor. The time the ceiling leaked, leaving a sagging, peanut-shaped stain on the sheetrock above the dining room table, which the landlord never fixed.

“We don’t have much, but this is our home,” Juana said.

“This is where our church is, it’s where I take the bus to get anywhere in the city, it’s where the Sam’s and the Walmart and the Target are right there, where I can easily walk to buy groceries when my husband is at work,” she added.

“I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” Juana said. “It’s where God wants us to live, that’s clear to me now more than ever.”

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