14 Celebrities Who Were Once Undocumented

Issues like immigration don’t seem so abstract once you know someone who has immigrated to the United States

Photo: Wikimedia/Georges Biard

Photo: Wikimedia/Georges Biard

Issues like immigration don’t seem so abstract once you know someone who has immigrated to the United States. Putting faces and names to something, whatever it may be, instantly humanizes whatever you are looking at. Immigration is a human issue before it is a political one. Once you hear personal stories you start to understand the many reasons why people are undocumented in the first place. You also start to piece together how the immigration crisis we are in is more about Latinidad, skin color, and the oppression of a people more than it is about entering the United States illegally.

That’s why we need to see the faces of immigrants and we need to listen to as many of these narratives as possible. And who do people listen to the most in America? Celebrities. There are people you see on TV, listen to on the radio, and watch on the big screen every day who entered this country without proper documentation. Let’s hear some of their stories.


Salma Hayek

Oscar-nominated actress Salma Hayek admitted in an interview with V Magazine Spain that she was an undocumented immigrant for a short time in 1991 when her visa expired. Although this was a matter that was quickly taken care of, we love that she openly admits and shares her status at the time. She also overcame the racial discrimination she endured in Hollywood, becoming a nominee for Best Actress at the 2003 Academy Awards, for her role in Frida.


Michael J. Fox

It’s important that if we are going to look into “illegal” immigration, that we look beyond the people and countries that have been a scapegoat for the current administration. Canadian actor Michael J. Fox, star of the hugely successful movie franchise Back to the Future, and the classic ’80s TV show Family Ties, was also once undocumented in the U.S. According to The Hollywood Reporter, in his autobiography, the star admits he was apprehensive about crossing the border to work because “the actual work visa had not yet come through.”


Demian Bichir

A lot of times, people enter the country legally but then become undocumented when their visas expire. Mexican actor Demian Bichir stayed in the United States after his visa expired, getting amnesty through the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.


Cesar Millan

Cesar Millian, the Dog Whisperer, has helped millions of people understand and communicate with their dogs. Millian has been open about his immigration story. He crossed the border from Mexico illegally when he was 21 years old, with only $100 in his pocket and not speaking a lick of English. Today, Cesar Millian is worth anywhere between $25 million and $45 million. This is the American Dream, and that dream is for everybody, regardless of if they came to this country legally or not.


Nicki Minaj

Nicki Minaj shared her own personal immigration story after expressing her horror of small children being torn away from their parents. Minaj arrived in the U.S. at the age of 5 from her native Trinidad and Tobago and entered the country illegally.


Luis Enrique

Nicaraguan salsa singer Luis Enrique was also undocumented and spoke no English when he first entered the United States. He decided to speak about his experiences in California in his autobiography (called Autobiografia), in order to share his life story and empower others.


Camila Cabello


We previously covered singer Camila Cabello‘s interview in Rolling Stone, where she talks about her own family’s immigration story. Born in Cuba, to a Mexican father and Cuban mother, Cabello shared that her father swam the Rio Grande to rejoin his family in the U.S. after they had immigrated to Miami.


Diane Guerrero


Colombian-American actress Diane Guerrero had to face what many children of undocumented immigrants are experiencing today — family separation. When she was 14, Guerrero’s parents and older brother were deported. She wrote about this experience in her book, In The Country We Love: My Family Divided.


Arnold Schwarzenegger

Why doesn’t anyone delve into the immigrant stories of Europeans? How many Europeans enter and/or work in this country undocumented? Many. Arnold Schwarzenegger is one such person. While he had a sports visa for bodybuilding, the former Governor of California also took on a job as a bricklayer in the states. Had the government known about his illegal work, Schwarzenegger could have been deported.


Eduardo “El Piolin” Sotelo


Eduardo “El Piolin” Sotelo makes it part of his career as a radio show host to help members of his community, and empower undocumented immigrants. Now a U.S. citizen, Eddie was once undocumented himself; he was finally able to stay in the U.S. legally under 1986’s Immigration Reform and Control Act.


Pedro Rivera

The patriarch of the famous musical Rivera family brought his family over from Mexico to Long Beach, California for a better life (as do many other immigrants). He was undocumented then, but today owns his own record label and is at the head of a giant musical family legacy that includes his superstar daughter, Jenni Rivera.


Jorge Hernandez of Los Tigres del Norte

Los Tigres del Norte are a big deal in the Latin music world. The Mexican legends of norteño, from Morocito, Sinaloa, are now based in San Jose, California, arriving on a 90-day visa to perform at Soledad State Prison (Correctional Training Facility). Los Tigres stayed in the state and the rest, as they say, is musical history.


21 Savage


21 Savage was recently in the news due to his immigration situation, which included being detained by ICE and threatened with deportation. The rapper, although raised in Atlanta, was born in London, and found it difficult, even as a rich superstar, to finally get his immigration documents in order. 21 Savage told Complex:

“It felt impossible. It got to the point where I just learned to live without it. ’Cause I still ain’t got it, I’m 26, and I’m rich. So, just learned to live without it. Even if you got money, it ain’t easy. It ain’t no favoritism, and I respect it, I honestly respect it. It would be kind of messed up if they treated rich immigrants better than poor immigrants, I think.”


Melania Trump


This final mention is to call out hypocrisy whenever it rears its ugly head. “Celebrity” Melania Trump is married President Donald Trump, the person creating and perpetuating much — if not all— of the immigration crisis we are currently facing today. And she is the First Lady who wore that atrocious coat which basically let the entire world know that she, in fact, didn’t care about incarcerated immigrant children. But, did you know, that she is not only an immigrant herself, but also worked in the United States illegally? AP discovered that Melania was paid for 10 modeling jobs in the ’90s, despite not having the right documentation. This, of course, is a deportable offense.

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