Erika Andiola, interviewed in the NYT, April 10, 2013
Questions for a Young Immigration-Rights Activist
Yuri Gripas for The New York Times
By LAWRENCE DOWNES
Published: April 10, 2013
The video for “"El Hielo,” or “The Ice,” by the Los Angeles-based band La Santa Cecilia, was shot with a cast of undocumented immigrants, some of them leaders in the immigrant-rights movement. One is Erika Andiola, 25, of Mesa, Ariz., a 2009 graduate of Arizona State University and one of the founders of DRM Action Coalition, a group pushing for the Dream Act, a bill to grant legal status to unauthorized immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, as she was. Ms. Andiola made national headlines in January when her mother and brother were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and then released after a fierce outcry by immigrant groups. Ms. Andiola, like thousands of others, has had her deportation temporarily stayed under President Obama’s “deferred action” program. She now works as an aide to Representative Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat of Arizona. In Washington on Wednesday, before the rally for immigrant citizenship on the law of the Capitol, Ms. Andiola spoke with The Times. The interview has been edited and condensed.
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Q. How did you get started in organizing and activism?
A. My plan was to be a psychologist. It didn’t work out. In 2007, I was a college student; I was accepted into A.S.U. with scholarships, and it was all good, but then a law passed that denied undocumented youth in-state tuition and any sort of financial aid at a state university. So they took my scholarships. I went through a really hard situation with that, and also my mom being raided; she was raided by the sheriff [Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County] at work. We left the house. They took my uncle, who was living there. I was really upset, and it so happened that I found another group of students who were going through the same situation. We got to know each other; in 2009, the Dream Act was introduced, and so we started organizing for it. It was my very first — I mean, I was not into politics. I barely knew who my senator was, to be honest. But I had to do it.
Q. What was it like organizing in Arizona?
A. Arizona is the type of place where if you’re not out there, if you’re not really putting yourself out there, telling your story, you can get raided. You can get deported, and nobody knows about it. This is happening every single day.
Q. Do people still get demoralized and frightened because of Arpaio?
A. Yeah, definitely. I live in Mesa, a city close to Phoenix. It was being raided very often by Arpaio; I played soccer for a while, and even going to the soccer fields, as soon as people start seeing a helicopter flying over them, they would freak out. The sheriff puts out press releases saying, “I’m going to do a raid.” Of course, people are not going to come out of their houses. That’s been the situation — even for Dreamers. If you’re a Dreamer, and you have not been able to get deferred action, you will most likely lose the privilege of getting deferred action if you get caught by Arpaio.
Q. How has this movement changed you?
A. When I was in college, I was very naïve (laughs). I thought I was going to follow the path that high school teachers tell you: You’re going to graduate, go to college, get a job, get married and have kids. The reality is, it doesn’t work that way. I learned. I stopped being so naïve.
Q. How is it that the Dreamers have been able to get things done that other groups weren’t able to?
A. It’s very hard to tell someone in their face that you’re illegal and you don’t deserve to be human (laughs). I mean, that’s how I felt before whenever I’d see someone talking smack or talking so badly about an undocumented person. They don’t know that I’m undocumented. And, all of a sudden, I say it. They don’t have the same face to look at me and say, “Look, you don’t deserve to be here.” I think that’s the power of Dreamers telling our stories. We call it our most powerful tool, which is our story. Any person who’s oppressed, whether it’s by a law or anything, the power of their story is going to help move the issue forward.
Q. Tell me about your mom’s status.
A. She was given a year’s stay of deportation. In January, she has to go back to immigration, and they get to decide whether they will extend her stay or take her out of the country again. So the only thing that can keep her here is immigration reform.
Q. What’s the next step for the Dreamers?
A. Right now we’re trying to organize our mothers and our fathers. Right now a lot of people see a very clear path to citizenship for Dreamers. But I can’t imagine all of the Dreamers being here as citizens and having parents that are still struggling to be able to be here. It just doesn’t make any sense. We want them to tell their own stories as well, so people can understand why they came. My mom came because of domestic violence.
Q. Where is this all going for you?
A. I haven’t been able to think that far. At this point, I just want to be able to pass immigration reform. I want to be able to keep my mom here, and we’ll see where life takes me from there.