Last Updated on August 14, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 847
What begins as a personal story, one that chronicles the heartbreak and terror Diane Guerrero and her immediate family experienced, quickly becomes a survey in the lived experience of undocumented immigrants and a heartfelt call to action for Americans to advocate for immigration reform. Throughout her book, Guerrero reminds readers that the personal is political and that the experiences of individuals knit together to form our collective existence and conscience. Because Guerrero's book seeks to inform and incite readers through the power of personal narrative and political action, the most important quotations within the text are those which seamlessly merge the intimate stories of families with the import of political agendas.
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In the second chapter, "Mi Familia," Guerrero introduces readers to her family, focusing on how hardworking, dedicated, and loving her parents are. She writes:
My mother and father—or Mami and Papi as I affectionately call them—worked. And I mean super-hard. That's what it takes to make it in America as you're struggling for citizenship. From the time they arrived from Colombia, they accepted the sort of low-wage, under-the-table jobs that make some people turn up their noses. Scrubbing toilets. Painting houses. Mowing lawns. Mopping floors. My dad, Hector, left for his shift as a restaurant dishwasher well before sunrise; at noon, he traded his kitchen apron for a factory uniform. Monday through Friday and sometimes on weekends, my father clocked in. It's how he made ends meet. My mother, Maria, was home more with Eric and me, but she also did everything from babysitting to cleaning hotels and office buildings.
While Guerrero is certainly establishing the character of her parents in these sentences, she is also providing a glimpse of what life looks like for many immigrants living and working in the United States, with and without documentation. Guerrero's parents engaged in manual labor in industries that do rely heavily on an often-undocumented workforce: janitorial services, construction and contract labor, and kitchen crews. By highlighting these thankless, low-level jobs as the ones her parents tirelessly worked, Guerrero is able to casually implicate these industries and their reliance on "under-the-table" labor to provide basic goods and services that all Americans rely upon for their daily comfort and provision. It is an important personal and political intersection to recognize that these industries could not function at capacity without the willingness and work ethic of undocumented persons.
Guerrero contrasts these admirable traits that her parents—and, by proxy, so many undocumented immigrants—embody with the bureaucratic shortcomings and ineptitude of Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE). In the chapter "Taken," Guerrero documents the early hours and days that followed her parents being taken into custody. She recounts a conversation with her father, who asked if anyone from ICE had contacted her, and how she responded:
"No," I told him. Not only has US Immigration and Custom Enforcement been silent, I also hadn't received a call from Massachusetts Child Protective Services. At fourteen, I'd been left on my own. Literally. When the authorities made the choice to detain my parents, no one bothered to check that a young girl, a minor, a citizen of this country, would be left without a family. Without a home. Without a way to move forward.
Again, the personal becomes political. Guerrero offers a biting commentary of how immigration policies as they are currently enforced do not focus on holistic interventions or solutions for families impacted. By sharing the neglect Guerrero experienced as a minor at the hands of two government agencies, she requires readers to confront the common theme of families torn apart and children left without advocates to help them navigate their life after parental deportation, and she begins to lay the groundwork for why deportation does not encourage positive outcomes for anyone involved.
The climax of Guerrero's argument is reached in her final chapter, "Call to Action." She explicitly states:
Those whose parents are snatched away frequently end up in foster care, bounced from family to family as they deal with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe clinical depression; without the consent of their birth parents, they can be adopted by people who may further mistreat them. . . . All are susceptible to sex traffickers, drug dealers, and gang leaders. The lack of due diligence from our government repeatedly leaves our youngest citizens hanging without a safety net. When immigration officers sweep in and arrest a housekeeper or factory worker without checking to see if a child will be deserted, families and communities become unstable.
The motif of hardworking, loving caretakers who happen to be undocumented is juxtaposed with the motif of broken, punitive laws that happen to be enforced by callous or careless government officials to provide one of Guerrero's primary arguments against current immigration policies: The practice of deportation hurts children, harms families, and hinders the full potential of communities who could experience wholeness and health if offered possible paths to citizenship. Guerrero's story is only one of many that could be told by children who are deprived of a life with their parents and ignored by the agencies responsible for their separation.