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Diane Guerrero Offers Hope to Children of Undocumented Immigrants

The actress shares her family’s deportation nightmare and how she’d like to see the system change in her new book, In the Country We Love. 

Diane Guerrero in Immigration and "In the Country We Love"

When actress Diane Guerrero was just 14 years-old, she returned from school to an empty home. 

Cars were in the driveway, dinner had been started, but when Guerrero called out for her father, mother and older brother, no one answered.

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“I had a sinking feeling that my worst fears had been realized,” Guerrero tells Guideposts.org.

READ MORE: DANIELLE BROOKS IS COMING FULL CIRCLE

Guerrero, star of  Orange Is the New Black, was born in the U.S. and is therefore a legal citizen,  but her parents and brother had immigrated from Colombia to their home in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts years earlier. Guerrero recalls her father – a man the Netflix star describes as hard-working and good with his hands — preparing her for the day when the family might be separated due to deportation.

“He would say: If this happens, you’re going to be upset. You’re going to think everything is over, but it’s not. You cannot break down, not after this long journey,” Guerrero says.

That day, she hid under the bed for hours, afraid that someone would come to take her away too, but she soon realized no one was coming to check on the child left behind.

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“It was as if I did not exist; as if my parents did not have any children at home,” Guerrero says.

Luckily, Guerrero had a strong circle of family friends who took her in, helped her continue her education and provided support while her own family was thousands of miles away, but the trauma of being torn from her parents, her brother and the only life she knew stuck with her long past that fateful day.

Guerrero suffered depression and eventually sought treatment through therapy. Acting also helped her deal with all of the conflicting emotions she was feeling at the time.

“Mental health is very important for all of us, but especially in underserved communities where [it’s] considered a luxury because affordable health care is not available,” Guerrero explains. “Many people do not realize the emotional damage that family separation [causes], often for the long term. Children are left homeless or in foster care or end up in the penal system. Just the fear of family separation causes psychological damage.”

It’s just one of the reasons Guerrero decided to share her personal story of being a child of undocumented immigrants in her new book In the Country We Love.

Currently, there are over 11 million undocumented  immigrants living in the US, many of whom have citizen children. Guerrero’s memoir chronicles her journey and that of her parents, who the actress says tried for years to obtain legal citizenship.

READ MORE: HOW MALACHI KIRBY RELIED ON FAITH WHILE FILMING ‘ROOTS’ 

“My family faced obstacles that many families are facing every day, a broken system where there is no fair and clear path to citizenship,” Guerrero explains. “Faulty lawyers and crooked notaries trick vulnerable families into paying money for processing for green cards that are never delivered.”

She wants to help erase the myths surrounding undocumented immigrants.

“Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for almost all public benefits and yet, our country’s economy benefits greatly from the presence and work of immigrants, including those out of status,” Guerrero says. “My parents worked hard and tried every way possible to legalize their status. They saw the promise of America; they came for a better life.”

She wants her book to motivate others to educate themselves on the current immigration system, including the detention and deportation procedures which the actress says “lack due process.”

“I am a casualty of the current, outdated system that needs to change on multiple fronts,” Guerrero says. “We, as citizens, need to encourage everyone to get informed, get involved and vote, for the betterment of our families, our communities and our great country we love.”

Even more than that, she wants to plant a seed of hope any child who may be living the nightmare she once experienced.

“This should not be a political issue; it’s a human issue,” Guerrero says. “I felt it was time for me to find my voice and share my story. If there’s one child feeling the way I did, I want them to know they are not alone.”

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