At the age of 14, “Orange Is The New Black” star Diane Guerrero arrived from school to find her biggest fear had become a reality: her family was gone and she was alone.
In a heartfelt op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, published over the weekend, the actress recounted the day her father, mother and brother were deported. On Monday, Guerrero, 28, sat down with Michaela Pereira on CNN’s New Day and broke down in tears as she retold her story in an effort to spotlight the need for comprehensive immigration reform.
Guerrero, who was born in New Jersey and is a U.S. citizen, explained in her op-ed that her parents left Colombia “during a time of great instability there” to find a better life in the United States.
She then recounts her parents’ attempts at gaining legal status and the day her life changed forever:
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.
The actress told the CNN host that at that moment she didn’t quite know what to do.
“I broke down. I hid under the bed because I was afraid that somebody was going to come for me,” Guerrero told Pereira. “I don’t know who that someone was but I was just so scared.”
But no one came for Guerrero, not even to see if she was alive and well.
“Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me," the actress recalls in the op-ed. "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.”
The actress lived with friends’ families until she graduated. She considers herself “lucky” despite her “rocky existence” because others in her situation go down a darker road after losing their parents to deportation.
The “OITNB” star ends the piece writing that her story is “all too common” thanks to an immigration system she says needs fixing.
I realize the issues are complicated. But it'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.
During her interview with CNN, the actress quickly began to get choked up after being asked about her current relationship with her parents.
“It’s tough, it’s like we’ve been separated for so long, I feel like sometimes we don’t know each other,” Guerrero told CNN. “It’s difficult because I’ve grown up without them, and there’s things about them that are new that I don’t recognize, and it just — it hurts.”
“But I love them so much,” she continued, breaking down as she spoke. “And I just hate that they have gone through this. And I know I’ve been by myself, but I feel like they have lived a very lonely existence.”
When asked about the push back a story like this usually has from critics against immigration reform, the star points out that many immigrants are undocumented despite applying for legal status.
“People like my family started out trying to do things the legal way but, what people don’t realize [is], it is so difficult for some people to get documented... my parents tried forever,” Guerrero concluded. “This system didn’t offer relief for them and what I’m asking for is to create or find a solution for families.”
Watch Guerrero's CNN interview below and read the full op-ed here.