Though I’ve shared this story many times now, each new telling still sends chills down my spine. I was 14 years old, stubborn, sassy and late for school, as usual. Running out the door, I brushed past my mom’s pleas for me to eat breakfast, eager to see my friends. At the end of the school day, an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach, I decided to call home – no answer. As I made my way to our house in panic, nothing would prepare me for what I would find: an empty house, warm dinner still on the table, and my parents gone, picked up with no warning by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Shortly after, my mom and dad were deported back to Colombia.
I’ve been forced to navigate the remainder of my teenage years and young adulthood alone, with only the ghosts of my parents to keep me company. Having experienced the cruel reality of being separated from them, I work towards a future in which no other child is forced to share my pain or to live a life crippled by the fear of the same loss happening to her or her family. This vision is why I refuse to stay silent as California’s 4.5 million children growing up with immigrant parents make their way back to school this month with fear nestled alongside rulers and notebooks in their backpacks.
I implore California’s Governor Brown to stand with these children and their families, on the right side of history, by signing into law SB 54, or the California Values Act, with the most comprehensive protections possible. Recent news revealed Governor Brown’s intentions to amend the California Values Act to exclude a wide swatch of Californians from the bill’s originally strong protections. These amendments are not only wholly unnecessary, they inexplicably broaden ICE access to vulnerable families in the target path of Trump’s “deport them all” motives.
Not many people know that although the engine driving deportations are set by the President and Congress, local police and their jail policies actually provide the fuel to carry out the work of banishing someone from this country. Even lesser known is the fact that, though local police are in no way obligated to assist with deportations, many police leaders and elected officials voluntarily choose to do so. If it becomes law, the California Values Act would help keep millions of children rightfully with their families by taking the state’s law enforcement resources out of the Trump administration’s deportation work.
I’d like to remind those who seek to dilute the California Values Act, claiming it is too broad, that dire times such as the President’s shameful attack on immigrants and refugees demand for bold leadership in response. The California Values Act stands for fair treatment and second chances, and rests on the kind of strong moral and sound public policy foundations that have benefitted our democracy time and time again.
As the states with the most immigrants, Texas and California shape the conversation for how we as a nation choose to treat those who were born elsewhere and have come to call this country home. The leaders of Texas have repeatedly chosen to stand for exclusion, for fear and for the separation of families, a choice I have adamantly spoken out against.
Following the election, California positioned itself as the national leader of resistance against the Trump administration, introducing a slew of bold bills aimed at protecting immigrants in the state to the full extent possible. In his January State of the State remarks, Governor Brown promised to defend “every man, woman and child who has come here for a better life and has contributed to the wellbeing of our state.”
Now, as its legislative session draws to a close, all eyes, including mine, are on California to see if it will make good on that promise of protection or if it will instead cede space for hate and intolerance to continue to flourish.
I ask Governor Brown to make the California Values Act law, free of politically motivated amendments. I ask Governor Brown to promise that young girl, scared for her family and the possibility of her future without them, that she need not be weighed down with the burden of carrying fear in her backpack and into her classrooms. Do not let her destiny mirror mine, Governor Brown. Do not allow her parents to become mere ghosts in her life. As hate takes a front row seat in the center of our national attention, now more than ever, we must stand tall in our values of inclusion and leave a better society for our children.
Diane Guerrero (@dianeguerrero__) is an actor in “Orange Is the New Black,” and author of “In The Country We Love: My Family Divided.” She volunteers with various immigrants’ rights and civic engagement groups, and is an Ambassador for the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, which works to build a democratic society for everyone.