“I was six when I realized that [my parents’ immigration status] could lead to my family being taken away,” recalls actress Diane Guerrero, who was born in the U.S. to Colombian parents. “That's what happened when I was 14.” She came home from school one day to discover that her parents had been arrested by immigration officers. Soon after they were deported.

Telling her story

Now Guerrero is speaking out about the experience in her new book, “In the Country We Love: My Family Divided.” “I hope that, through my story, people understand the impact of deportation,” says Guerrero, “The trauma to the family can last for years, affecting the physical, mental, emotional and economic health of the children and adults involved.” In fact, many immigrant children who are separated from their families end up in foster care or jail.

“‘The immigration system is out of date and inadequate to meet the needs of the U.S. economy and of families seeking to be reunified.’”

Guerrero was lucky to be raised by caring family friends in the U.S. and then build a successful career as an actress. She is proud to portray strong Latina women on the popular TV shows “Orange Is the New Black” and “Jane the Virgin.” “The shows are very realistic in their portrayal of our community,” she says. “In ‘Orange Is the New Black,’ we see the challenges posed by racial and ethnic divides and the pitfalls of privately-owned and operated prisons that are largely populated by communities of color. In ‘Jane the Virgin,’ [we see] Latino family values, goals and hardships that are shared by all families. We are all Americans; we are in this together; we stand up and fight to be treated with dignity and respect. A wedding scene in the last season featured the vows being spoken in English and Spanish, proving a true integration of our communities.”

Working for change

As part of her commitment to the Latino population, Guerrero is leveraging her celebrity status to advocate for immigration reform. “The immigration system is out of date and inadequate to meet the needs of the U.S. economy and of families seeking to be reunified,” she says, citing U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew’s 2014 statement that “immigration reform is good economic policy.” She partners with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Women Step Forward website (“which is a great resource for the moment a crisis occurs”), and the organizations Mi Familia Vota and Voto Latino.

Guerrero sees Hispanic Heritage month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, “as providing a huge platform to promote Latino civic engagement,” especially voter registration. “If we, as a community, do not march to the polls, our voices will not be heard. Our votes need to be counted so that we can bring about political changes that result in all Latinos being treated with dignity and respect.”