President Barack Obama announced an executive order on immigration only a week after Colombian “Orange is the New Black” actress Diane Guerrero admitted her family was deported when she was a child. Now 28 years old, Guerrero shared the story of her family’s deportation in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times. Guerrero was only 14 years old when she came home from school to an empty house. Her neighbors informed her that immigration officers took her parents and brother away earlier that afternoon. Obama made a speech outlining the three main initiatives for immigration reform. There will be an increase in law enforcement at the border to “stem the flow” of immigrant border crossings, a plan to make it easier for high-skilled immigrants to work in the country and a plan to take steps to “deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.”
It is important to decriminalize undocumented immigrants by avoiding the use of the term “illegal alien” and to offer them easier, affordable and more attainable citizenship. According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over 200,000 undocumented immigrants with citizen children were deported between July 1, 2010 and Sept. 31, 2012, Guerrero graciously shared her story––probably similar to that of other broken families––of parents being unable to live in the United States with their children and support them during their childhoods.
We should avoid breaking apart the families of skilled, hard-working undocumented immigrants. In her op-ed, Guerrero mentioned how tirelessly her parents worked to achieve citizenship, but fell short in funds after dealing with unjust, unhelpful lawyers. Despite their honest efforts to follow the rules of citizenship applications, they were still deported.
Obviously, attaining citizenship must be difficult to a certain degree to ensure the safety of the country and the qualifications of immigrants. It should not, however, be difficult to the extent that it inconveniences and harms potential citizens more than it helps.
Guerrero also described inactivity on the part of the government in ensuring her safety as a minor when her parents were deported.
“Not a single person at any level of government took any note of me,” she wrote. “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.”
Guerrero was left alone as a 14-year-old and would’ve been essentially forced to survive on her own if it were not for the kindness of family friends who took her in. Leaving underage citizens alone to take care of themselves is not exactly the American Dream.
Obama announced another initiative to protect families and to prevent traumatic situations such as what Guerrero experienced. He said that he wants to defer the deportation of undocumented immigrants who are parents to citizen children. The parents will be allowed to stay in America if they pay a fee and pass a background check. Although controversial, it is a progressive effort to prevent broken families and abandoned children.
America is a nation built on immigrants; it is time we pay attention to and protect the families that are desperate to become a valuable part of our country. This includes helping to break language barriers, offering equal education for immigrant adults and children and being optimistic about how skilled immigrants can contribute to our society.
Although Obama is criticized for his excessive use of executive orders, action needed to be taken on these immigration issues. The constant political debate and back-and-forth on immigration can now hopefully subside.
It is shameful that the immigration process, so critical and important for the lives of about 11.7 million undocumented immigrants, is often a source of futile bipartisan strife and criticism. It is also disheartening to see honest, hard-working people and young children be labeled as criminals rather than being seen through an open mind as potential citizens