‘Orange Is the New Black’ actress remembers coming home from school to learn that her family had been deported

Originally posted on Feministing

Actress Diane Guerrero experienced our draconian immigration policies first-hand when she was 14 years old, and came home from school to an empty house. Hours later she would find out her family had been taken to a detention center and would be deported. Guerrero is using her voice to speak out for humane, fair, and sensible immigration reform.

Guerrero is best known for her roles in shows like Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin. But she is also an advocate for undocumented people and their families and volunteers with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. This past weekend Guerrero penned an op-ed for the LA Times about her experience with our broken immigration system. While Guerrero was born in New Jersey and thus a legal citizen, her parents and older brother had immigrated from Colombia. She writes,

Throughout my childhood I watched my parents try to become legal but to no avail. They lost their money to people they believed to be attorneys, but who ultimately never helped. That meant my childhood was haunted by the fear that they would be deported. If I didn’t see anyone when I walked in the door after school, I panicked.

And then one day, my fears were realized. I came home from school to an empty house. Lights were on and dinner had been started, but my family wasn’t there. Neighbors broke the news that my parents had been taken away by immigration officers, and just like that, my stable family life was over.

Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me. No one checked to see if I had a place to live or food to eat, and at 14, I found myself basically on my own.

Guerrero uses her painful experience to push for reforms that are not only just, but in the best interest of legal citizens:

[I]t’s not just in the interest of immigrants to fix the system: It’s in the interest of all Americans. Children who grow up separated from their families often end up in foster care, or worse, in the juvenile justice system despite having parents who love them and would like to be able to care for them.

I don’t believe it reflects our values as a country to separate children and parents in this way. Nor does it reflect our values to hold people in detention without access to good legal representation or a fair shot in a court of law. President Obama has promised to act on providing deportation relief for families across the country, and I would urge him to do so quickly. Keeping families together is a core American value.

Congress needs to provide a permanent, fair legislative solution, but in the meantime families are being destroyed every day, and the president should do everything in his power to provide the broadest relief possible now. Not one more family should be separated by deportation.

While her piece was eloquent and moving, it was her television appearance on Monday that caught people’s attention and made the headlines. During a CNN interview with Michaela Pereira, Guerrero spoke from the heart and off the cuff and broke into tears, saying, “We’ve been separated for so long, I feel like sometimes we don’t know each othe… I’ve grown up without them. There are things about them that I don’t recognize. I know that I’ve been by myself, but I feel like they have lived a very lonely existence themselves.”

See the transcript in this article and watch the video above.

See more of my posts at Feministing

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