Staffer Leaves Hill to Stop Mom’s Deportation

High-profile immigration aide and Dreamer quitting to help mother stay in the country.

National Journal
Ben Terris
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Ben Terris
Dec. 3, 2013, 5:06 p.m.

When they took her moth­er away, Erika An­diola didn’t know what to do. Which was weird, be­cause for years she had been work­ing as an im­mig­ra­tion-re­form act­iv­ist, deal­ing with cases just like this. In fact, that very week she had ac­cep­ted an of­fer to work for Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ar­iz., as an out­reach dir­ect­or be­cause of this very work.

And yet, all An­diola could think about when Im­mig­ra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment burst in­to her house at 9 p.m. and es­cor­ted her moth­er and broth­er away in hand­cuffs was how mad she was.

“See­ing her be­ing hand­cuffed and treated like she wasn’t enough of a hu­man be­ing to be treated with re­spect, I couldn’t take it,” she told me. “My heart and an­ger and sad­ness got in the way of know­ing what to do.”

But not for long. Be­fore the night was over, An­diola reached out to just about every per­son she had met in the move­ment: mem­bers of Con­gress, fel­low act­iv­ists, White House aides. Less than 12 hours later, an ICE of­ficer, feel­ing the pres­sure, ordered the bus that was car­ry­ing her 54-year-old moth­er, Maria Arre­ola, to the bor­der to stop: She could go home.

An­diola couldn’t be­lieve it. It was too good to be true. And, in a sense, it was. Her moth­er was giv­en a one-year re­prieve last Janu­ary. So with Arre­ola due back in court early next year, An­diola is leav­ing her Hill job to fight to keep her moth­er from be­ing taken away again.

“I nev­er want to feel again how I felt that night,” she said.

An­diola came to this coun­try when she was 11. She and her moth­er and broth­er fled from her ab­us­ive fath­er by walk­ing nights through the desert across the Mex­ic­an bor­der. She doesn’t re­mem­ber much from the so­journ but does re­call at one point be­ing sep­ar­ated from her fam­ily. That mo­ment, lost and alone in the vast desert, will be with her forever.

It was a tough ad­just­ment at first, liv­ing in the United States, but in time An­diola thrived. She earned schol­ar­ships to at­tend Ari­zona State Uni­versity, met a group of fel­low un­doc­u­mented stu­dents, and began ad­voc­at­ing for the Dream Act. After col­lege, she began work­ing as a com­munity or­gan­izer, and she met a young mem­ber of the state Le­gis­lature named Kyrsten Sinema. An­diola would be one of Sinema’s first hires when she came to Con­gress earli­er this year, a job An­diola could leg­ally ac­cept after Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2012 ex­ec­ut­ive or­der grant­ing her and oth­er youths de­ferred ac­tion status as eli­gible un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants.

When she star­ted the job, An­diola had hoped she could play at least a small part in mov­ing le­gis­la­tion. She would tell her story to whomever would listen, but she quickly found that not every­one would.

“The prob­lem is, lead­er­ship in the House just doesn’t seem to want to do any­thing,” she said. “It’s been really tough be­ing on the in­side, see­ing how polit­ic­al games and rhet­or­ic are a lot stronger than policy.”

Here she was, at the U.S. Cap­it­ol, sur­roun­ded by people on both sides of the aisle pro­claim­ing that the im­mig­ra­tion sys­tem is broken — and yet noth­ing was get­ting done about it.

On Tues­day morn­ing, An­diola headed down to the Na­tion­al Mall, where ad­voc­ates such as Rev. Al Sharpton and Labor Sec­ret­ary Thomas Perez shared a stage with a group of men and wo­men who had been fast­ing for as long as 22 days. A slew of House Demo­crats, in­clud­ing House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi and Whip Steny Hoy­er were there, and Rep. Joe Kennedy even said he had take part in the fast.

The prob­lem, of course, was the ab­sence of Re­pub­lic­an law­makers.

“If the speak­er had come out, I be­lieve that he would have been in­spired,” Rep. Raul Ruiz told me off­stage.

As the fa­tigued fasters shuffled on stage, An­diola had to sneak away to get back to work. She was stopped on her way by Rep. Lu­is Gu­ti­er­rez, the House mem­ber from Illinois and an icon­ic im­mig­ra­tion ad­voc­ate. Even though Con­gress has been a do-noth­ing quag­mire, hav­ing ad­voc­ates like Gu­ti­er­rez around made An­diola struggle migh­tily with her de­cision to leave.

Gu­ti­er­rez em­braced her, and whispered in Span­ish in her ear: “Stay strong. You’re do­ing the right thing.” Tears streamed down her face, and she knew he was right.

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