SPOILER ALERT: This article contains plot details from Orange is the New Black’s seventh season.
Orange is the New Black fans will rejoice to see one familiar character back for the much-anticipated final season of the Netflix prison drama series. Diane Guerrero reprises her role as inmate Maritza Ramos. In the new season, the feisty, silly, and quick-witted “Colombian Barbie” is enjoying her newfound freedom after getting released from jail. Maritza goes out to a club and hooks up with an NBA player who offers to fly her out to Los Angeles to visit him. A hard decision, but she opts to not go. Instead, she parties with a friend. Caught with no ID, she gets hauled backed to Litchfield Penitentiary, but this time as an undocumented detainee. Maritza, who explains she is a U.S. citizen, is now caught in a real-life nightmare.
The storyline is one that will resonate with viewers who’ve been witnessing Donald Trump’s remaking of the nation’s immigration system, a central theme of his presidency that will continue through the 2020 elections. Utilizing a prison backdrop, OITNB tackles the issues surrounding immigration from raids to the treatment of detainees in detention, family separations, and mistaken identity.
“I couldn’t think of a better platform for [discussing immigration issues],” said Guerrero, at the premiere of the seventh season. “Orange is the New Black is about the prison system and how it affects all of us and how it affects women and how it affects women of color, in particular. I would be so surprised if Orange did not tackle this issue. We are telling different stories, and I am so glad that I am a part of that.”
Guerrero’s character was absent from season six due to her busy schedule on other shows. Guerrero has a recurring role on CW’s Jane the Virgin as Lina and had a starring role as Sofia in Superior Donuts on CBS before its cancellation. Guerrero is also part of DC Universe’s Doom Patrol.
By the middle of the series, viewers learn Maritza is in fact born in Colombia and see her deported back to a country she doesn’t know. Guerrero herself is one of many US citizens who have personally experienced the painful truth that is our immigration system. Guerrero’s parents and older brother were deported when she was 14. “This is something that we are all living,” she explained. “I would hope that, although not everyone has not experienced family separation, that we are at least a little more aware of what’s going on. I know that I am not the only one living and seeing the images of children in cages and overpopulated cages.”
A high school student living in Boston at the time, Guerrero was the only member of her immediate family with U.S. citizenship. She remained in the U.S. while her family was sent back to Colombia after unsuccessfully pursuing an adjustment to their legal status. Friends and neighbors took her in. Her parents have never been able to return to the U.S. “I hope that people watching this can just put themselves in that situation for a second and understand that this is happening in our country and this is very real. It affects people. This is not going away,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero, an outspoken advocate for immigration reform, said it’s trauma for generations to come. “I know it because I’ve lived it. I really don’t have to dive too deeply to know what this is like. I know what it is like personally although it happened [over] 15 years ago, but I also know that I see it, I see the images every day.”
How was she able to survive such a profoundly painful experience? Guerrero confidently said, “I’m brave, baby. But we are not all built that way. My community has helped a lot and being a part of this community has been super helpful. The reason I came out with this story and was honest about my life was I was hugely inspired by our showrunner, by the women that I work with, their incredible stories and their advocacy and activism.”
Guerrero, who has volunteered with the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC), a nonprofit organization providing technical assistance to immigration law practitioners and community-based organizations, provided words of encouragement particularly for the children of undocumented. “You are not alone. I know I felt alone for a very long time, but once you realize that you are not, you can take a real hold of your life,” she said. “Reach out to people who are going through this. They belong here just like I belonged here. You belong here and we all belong here. Hopefully, we will see some changes soon. That will require a huge part in the public and how we vote. And just a little more consideration in who goes in office from the local level up.”