Diane Guerrero’s Story of Parents Being Deported Represents Experience of Thousands of Children

ICE arrestActress Diane Guerrero (“Orange Is the New Black,” “Jane the Virgin”) recently described her traumatic experience, at age 14, of coming home to find that her parents had been picked up by U.S. immigration authorities. They were detained and ultimately deported. (See “Op-Ed ‘Orange is the New Black’ actress: My parents were deported.”)

She literally came home to an empty house, receiving no communication, much less help, from U.S. authorities. Only by relying on help from friends was she able to keep her life together and ultimately achieve the success that she did. (Many others aren’t so lucky.)

If that sounds like a script worthy of a movie, realize that it happens every day — no exaggeration. As described in the Huffington Post‘s article by Elise Foley, “Deportation Separated Thousands Of U.S.-Born Children From Parents In 2013,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] last year carried out more than 72,000 deportations of parents who said they had U.S.-born children.”

That’s despite the supposedly active policy of “prosecutorial discretion,” under which ICE agents are expected to follow specific guidelines in choosing who to spend precious government resources on prosecuting, giving lower priority to cases where the undocumented immigrant is law-abiding and has ties to the U.S. such as U.S. citizen children and other family members.

In fact, Diane may have been lucky to escape U.S. government workers’ notice. The all-too-common scenario when a parent is deported is for the child to be placed into the foster care system, lose contact with the parents, and ultimately have the parents’ legal rights and relationship to them terminated. (See, “Thousands of Kids Lost From Parents In U.S. Deportation System,” by Seth Freed Wessler, Colorlines, November 2 2011.)

So, on top of using U.S. government resources to break up families, this misused exercise of discretion is costing the foster care system untold amounts. It’s a problem that could be solved without waiting for immigration reform, with more rational behavior by ICE in following its own guidelines, and attention to maintaining family ties within the foster care system. Let’s hope Diane Guerrero’s story, by putting a face on this crisis, will spur efforts in this direction.