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'We Are Here to Stay': OITNB's Diane Guerrero on the Future of Immigrant Rights

As an outspoken advocate for immigration reform—and a child of parents who were deported when she was only 14—Diane Guerrero reflects on the looming threat of a Trump presidency.

by Diane Guerrero
Nov 11 2016, 7:25pm

Photo by Frazer Harrison via Getty

Today, Latino, immigrant and Muslim children are scared—and with good reason. Our nation will soon be led by a man who ran a campaign based on fear and hatred against immigrants, communities of color, Muslims, women, the disabled, and many more.

Equally disconcerting is the fact that President-elect Donald Trump will replace President Barack Obama, the best president of my lifetime, whose legitimacy to sit in the Oval Office Trump directly and repeatedly challenged.

Read more: Muslim Americans Grapple with a Trump Presidency

Already, Trump is bringing his divisive politics to the White House. That is not speculation: Trump has named to his transition team the most anti-immigrant politicians in our country, people who have constantly dehumanized immigrants and waged campaigns to reduce the number of legal immigrants in the US because they fear our nation's growing diversity.

The election won't just politically enable nativists—it's also already emboldened disturbing anti-immigration sentiments across the country. The day after the election, white students in Royal Oak, MI, chanted, "Build the wall, build the wall." In Wellsville, NY, a swastika and the words "MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN" were spray painted on a baseball dugout. In Minneapolis, a high school restroom was vandalized with words like "White Only" and "White America."

My message to the nativists is this: We are not going anywhere. We are here to stay and we are ready to fight back. We may be afraid, but we are united and we are tough.

The so-called DREAMers—undocumented immigrants who were brought to the US as children, who were allowed to live and work in the US under President Obama's DACA program—do not know their futures because Trump has vowed to revoke their permits. Those who were preparing to apply for DACA for the first time are now being advised to wait, so that their names are not flagged by the incoming Trump administration.

I lived in fear before my parents were taken away when I was 14. Afterwards, I suffered a deep, years-long heartache.

But it was these DREAMers who came out of the shadows six years ago and challenged politicians to give them and their parents relief from deportation. DACA was created as a result, and two-thirds of the Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill with a path to citizenship, though the Republican-controlled House stopped it, and the nativists blocked a further attempt to defer deportation for the parents of citizen children.

The courage of the DREAMers and their parents, who also came out and risked deportation, inspired me to "come out" and tell how I grew up as a citizen child of undocumented parents. I lived in fear before my parents were taken away when I was 14. Afterwards, I suffered a deep, years-long heartache that affected my emotional, financial, and scholastic well-being. No child should ever have to experience that, especially at the hands of a broken immigration system.

While writing my memoir recently, I did all I could to help grow the Latino vote. I knocked on doors, made telephone calls, talked to students at high schools and at colleges. I met people who thanked me because they now realized they are not alone, and I learned the deep pride that we all have as immigrants and as Latinos. We are the American story.

Latinos voted this year in record numbers, higher than in the last presidential election in 2012. Latinos gave Trump only 18 percent of their vote, the lowest level of support in almost 60 years. (We have to get that 18 percent to snap out of it!) We also elected the first Latina to the US Senate, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and I am so proud that I endorsed her candidacy. In the House, more Latinos will be seated.

Latino voters told pollsters they voted out of "community solidarity." Now, more than ever, we have to stick together. Our challenge to is to change the hate with love; to increase understanding of who we are and of how we contribute to this country that we love. We will do that by increasing our presence and our influence at every level of government.

We will share our stories, educate our children and communities about our efforts to build a better future, we will show people how to apply for citizenship, and we will mobilize. Let's not be afraid to demand a clean break from the deportation-focused policies. Let's also demand fast action on commonsense immigration reform to fix the current, outdated system.

If those in power refuse to listen, remind them that we vote and our numbers are only growing.

Go to the offices of your representatives in the House and Senate, or to local town halls, and demand an increase in the minimum wage, a new Voting Rights Act, gun violence prevention, police reform, equal education opportunities, preservation of women's rights, and justice for all of our vulnerable communities. Remind them that no person should be judged based on the color of their skin, religion, or sexual orientation.

You do not have to be a voter—you do not even need to be a citizen—to get involved. So do it. Be passionate. Be loud. Be clear. Be bold. And if those in power refuse to listen, remind them that we vote and our numbers are only growing.

Although we face the reality that our country is very divided and we have a new leader whose followers fear a diverse society, the hope still lives in my heart for a better future. We are resilient, strong, intelligent individuals, and we will not let this election defeat us or distract us from the task at hand. Our cause is great, and we have come too far to give up now.

We come from a place of love and understanding, and that can never be a bad thing.

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