Lindsey Robertson
November 18, 2014 11:48 am

I once read a creepy short story about a girl who wakes up one morning to the smell of pancakes, only to find that, while the pancakes are there, her mother is not. In fact, no one is. The girl wakes up to find herself completely alone in the world; a solitary I Am Legend-type existence. No one was in their cars, no one was on the street. I remember reading this story and becoming obsessed with the idea that you could wake up one day and find your once-stable world abandoned, completely void of the familiar faces you expected to be there. The thought was more disturbing than any bloody horror movie I’d ever seen.  

This kind of chilling experience was a deeply sad reality for Orange Is The New Black actress Diane Guerrero (she plays Maritza Ramos), who came home one day after school at age 14 to find her family gone — as if they had vanished into thin air. They were immigrants unable to gain citizenship and had been picked up by immigration services and were in the process of being deported back to Colombia. Diane wasn’t deported because she was born in the U.S. which makes her an automatic citizen. 

Diane recently recounted the tragic tale in her op-ed for the LA Times, describing how it was her neighbors who informed her why her parents and older brother were gone. Guerrero’s parents had attempted to become legal U.S. citizens for years, but no no avail. “They lost their money to people they believed to be attorneys, but who ultimately never helped,” writes Guerrero. “That meant my childhood was haunted by the fear that they would be deported.” Sadly, that fear ultimately became a reality. 

Diane followed up the op-ed with an interview on CNN. While both are completely affecting, it’s impossible not to choke up watching Diane breakdown on camera talking about her parents. “I love them so much and I just — 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 themselves. I’m sorry,” she said.

One of the most astounding aspects of the story is that even at 14 Diane was left to her own devices by the government. Luckily, some friends of the family took her in so that she could continue with her schooling. “Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me,” Diane writes. “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 thing that got to me the most was Diane’s heartbreaking confession that she no longer really knows her parents. Visiting them in Colombia once a year, and keeping up with one another via phone just hasn’t been enough to maintain the bond they once had. Now it’s almost as if they’re close acquaintances rather than family. 

Regardless of your stance on immigration, it’s undeniable that broken families are not acceptable casualties. No one deserves to come home and find their family gone, without a word of explanation as to their whereabouts. Especially not a 14 year old. And the kids who are impacted by these decisions are not often taken into consideration — as a result, they are left to forge lives for themselves, often with little guidance. Though Diane has made a successful career for herself, many children separated from their families do not find the same good fortune. “I realize the issues are complicated,” she writes. “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.” 

Diane’s story should be a wake-up call. While there may be lots of talk from politicians about the importance of future generations in this country, it’s about time people gave those future generations equal opportunity for success. It’s important to discuss immigration policies, because only then will we be able to find the right solutions. Nobody should experience what Diane experienced, and by the bravery and courage she showed in sharing that experience more people today than yesterday know that scenes like this really can and do play out in real life. These are families — and they deserve the opportunity to stay families. Only by talking about the issues will we be able to make them better.

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