orange is the new black actress tearfully describes parents deportation when she was just 14

I play Maritza Ramos, a tough Latina from the ‘hood, on “Orange Is the New Black.” I play Jane’s best friend Lina on “Jane the Virgin.” Lina is a funny know-it-all who is always ready to give advice.

Both parts are made up, but I love them both. My real story is that I am a U.S. citizen whose parents were deported when I was 14 years old. Also, my older brother was sent away.

My parents moved here from Colombia when things were very bad there. They moved to New Jersey, where they had friends and family, to get away from a bad economic situation at home. After I was born, they moved to Boston.

During my childhood, I saw my parents try to become legal, but they were never able to do so. They gave their money to people they thought were lawyers but who never helped them. That made me worry that they would be sent away when I was a kid. When I got home from school and didn’t see anyone there, I got scared.

Then one day, my worst fears came true. When I got home from school, the house was empty. My family wasn’t there, but the lights were on and dinner was cooking. My neighbours told me that immigration officers had taken my parents away, and that was the end of my stable family life.
No one at any level of government paid any attention to me. No one made sure I had a place to live or food to eat, and by the time I was 14, I was pretty much on my own.

My parents stayed in detention near Boston while they were waiting to be deported, so I could go see them. They would have liked to fight deportation, but they didn’t have a chance because they didn’t have a lawyer and the immigration system rarely gives judges the freedom to let families stay together. Finally, they agreed to let me go to Boston Arts Academy, a high school for the performing arts, and the parents of friends took me in.

Even though I was lucky to have good friends, my life was hard. I was always afraid of being a bother and losing the chance to stay. During high school, I had many different jobs in stores and coffee shops. Even though I was surrounded by people who cared about me, every success hurt because my parents weren’t there to share my happiness.

My family and I worked hard to keep our relationships strong, but too-short phone calls and the annual summer trips I took to Colombia weren’t enough. They missed a lot of important things in my life, like my singing recitals. Instead of being there, they watched my senior recital on a tape I sent them. And they missed my high school prom, the process of applying to college, and my high school and college graduations.

Everyone has a story like mine. Children who are U.S. citizens are taken away from their families every day because of broken immigration laws.

I think I’m lucky because my life turned out better than most people’s, including some of my own family members. When my brother was sent to another country, his daughter was just a young child. She still had her mother, but living in a home with only one parent was hard for her. My niece chose bad friends and bad things to do. Today, she is in jail doing time for the crime I play out on screen. I don’t think her life would have turned out this way if her father and my parents had been here to guide and help her.

I know the problems are hard to solve. But fixing the system is in the best interest of all Americans, not just immigrants. Children who grow up away from their families often end up in foster care or, even worse, in the juvenile justice system, even if their parents love them and want to take care of them.

I don’t think it shows what we stand for as a country when children are taken away from their parents in this way. Also, it goes against our values to keep people in jail without giving them a good lawyer or a fair chance in court. President Obama has said that he will do something to help families across the country who are facing deportation, and I urge him to do so as soon as possible. A core American value is to keep families together.

Congress needs to come up with a permanent, fair legislative solution, but in the meantime, families are being destroyed every day, so the president should do everything in his power to help as many people as possible right now. No more families should be split up because of deportations.

Diane Guerrero is an actress who also helps out with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, a non-profit group that works to protect the rights of immigrants.

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