Diane Guerrero was just 14 years old when her family was ripped apart.
But they weren’t home. They had been arrested and – as Guerrero details in her new memoir, In the Country We Love: My Family Divided – they would soon be deported from Boston back to their native Colombia.
“My family is broken,” Guerrero, 29, says in the latest issue of PEOPLE. “And it shouldn’t have to be.”
Guerrero’s parents, Maria and Hector, first came to the United States on visitor visas in 1981. During their stay with Maria’s sister, Guerrero’s mom convinced Hector that they and Maria’s son Eric would have better job opportunities than they had in Colombia.
Maria and Hector had to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, but they saw a bright future for their New Jersey-born daughter.
“My parents instilled a lot of American values in me,” says Guerrero. “They encouraged me to work hard and told me that anything was possible for me because I was a citizen.”
Guerrero – whose brother Eric had been deported a few years before her parents – clung to those ideals when she was left to fend for herself.
(Though she was barely a teen, Guerrero says immigration and child services never reached out to see who would care for her in her parents’ absence.)
• For more from Guerrero – including what her relationship with her parents is like today and how she survived life on her own – pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now
Guerrero tried to put on a brave face, but by the time she was in college the political science and communications major was depressed, drinking heavily, cutting herself and twice came close to attempting suicide, she writes in her book.
She still feels she suffers from “PTSD” because of her traumatic teen years, but thanks to therapy Guerrero is finally in a good place.
“I wasn’t happy, and it was because I wasn’t being political,” Guerrero says of breaking her silence about her story and getting involved with the nonprofit Mi Familia Vota and the Immigrant Legal Resource Center.
And Guerrero still hasn’t given up on the dream of having her parents return to the U.S.
“They haven’t given up hope that they’ll be with me on the day I get married or have children,” says Guerrero. “And I’ll continue fighting for them every day.”