If I had to take an application test to become a U.S. citizen, would I pass? It's a question every American should be asking themselves today, as immigration and citizenship are such hot button issues this election cycle.
Talk show host and comedian Chelsea Handler was more than willing to answer the question for herself on the latest episode of her Netflix series Chelsea, which aired September 16. Sitting in the studio audience, I bit my fingernails as I watched her and members of her staff try to answer ten out of a possible 100 questions similar to ones from an official exam, proctored by none other than Charlize Theron. Just as in real life, participants had to answer six correctly to be eligible for naturalization. Theron asked questions such as, "When was the constitution written," and "Who did we fight in World War II?"
Unsurprisingly, Handler and co. answered as I would have — with mostly head scratches and wild guesses. The segment highlighted the fact that, as you might have suspected, most average Americans would not pass this test — a disturbing point that segued into a discussion about immigration reform. Joining Handler to talk about the topic in a totally hilarious, but accessible and informative way, was Scottish-born American citizen Craig Ferguson, star of the upcoming series Luke Cage, Mike Colter, and Orange is the New Black's Diane Guerrero.
But it was Guerrero's conversation with Handler that really caught my attention. Guerrero spoke about her recently published book written with the assistance of Michelle Burford: In the Country We Love: My Family Divided — an account of being the American-born child of two undocumented Colombian immigrants failed by an outdated naturalization system, and "unscrupulous lawyers" who swindled them for what little money they had.
Guerrero recalled the life-changing moment when, at age 14, she came home from school to find that her parents had been taken to be detained and deported. She described the eerie scene: the dinner her mother had started was still there, their cars still parked in the driveway, and yet her parents were nowhere in sight. Guerrero told Handler that coming home to the emptiness was the quietest moment in her life.
She went on to explain that while her parents had prepared her for the scenario, she was not prepared for the fact that no government official, or anyone for that matter, would come by to explain what had happened, or even provide updates on her parents' status. Guerrero stayed with friends, and ultimately decided not to go back with her parents to Colombia, but to pursue her dream of becoming an actress.
It's been 15 years, and her parents are still in Colombia, though they would love to be reunited with their daughter in the States.
What struck me most was a point Guerrero made about how her story may sound shocking to some, but it is just one of many similar cases. After all, more than 42 million people in America are foreign-born. "I wanted to come out with this story because I wanted to be considered part of this narrative, the American narrative" she told Handler. "My story is an American story, and we should see it as such. Immigration is part of this country's fabric, and this is happening to a lot of American citizens and non-American citizens, but it's happening to people in our country. The fact of the matter is our immigration system is outdated, and it needs repairing. We need people who are going to push for this so we can eventually create a path for citizenship for people in this country."
If Guerrero's words have inspired you to take action, there's plenty you can do. Getting involved with the Dream Is Now is a good place to start. It's an organization that "calls for common sense reform that gives all undocumented immigrants the chance to earn their citizenship and contribute fully to our society." We can learn, connect, and act with the Federation For American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and, of course, donate to the cause. If this all sounds a bit overwhelming, simply starting a conversation with friends or family about the issue can be a great launching pad for positive change.