Immigrant rights activist Erika Andiola penned an open letter to her Arizona senators, Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, urging them to defend immigrant families after experiencing the horrors of the immigration detention firsthand last Thursday. Media-savvy and well-connected, Andiola was able to win rapid release of her mother Maria Arreola and Heriberto Andiola after they were detained by immigration agents last week. But immediately upon their release, Andiola used her unique position to highlight just how common and unjust her family’s brush with near-deportation was.

Andiola, who cofounded the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and also serves as the government relations director for the D.C.-based undocumented youth lobbying organization DRM Capitol Group, wrote to McCain and Flake:

Thursday night I heard a banging knock at the door. I looked through the window and immigration agents asked me to open the door because they were conducting an “investigation”. They asked for Maria, my mother, and as soon she stepped out they abruptly pulled her with force and handcuffed her in front of me and Angel, my 16 year old brother. They also detained my older brother for no cause. Angel pointed out to them that they needed to take her medications because of her cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. They laughed at his face told and ignored him. I felt helpless. Under this horrific scenario I didn’t know what else to do. I wanted to run and pull them both away from them but I couldn’t.

I spent an entire night crying and lonely. At every corner of my house, my mother and brother’s touches and memories were there. The most important people in my life had been taken from me.

… My story is not unique. It occurs every day. But not many have the strength of a national movement behind them. The helplessness is real of 400,000 deportations of families being torn from their U.S. citizen children, spouses, or siblings. You and your children and grandchildren will never experience this pain. But many of your constituents do. It is time Congress concentrate on smart enforcement that truly focuses on terrorists and violent criminals. And this is all under the Obama administration that has not taken leadership on immigration and has adopted failed programs such as Secure Communities and 287-G.

And now, the Andiola family is asking immigrant families to share their stories too. “This is not only something that happened to me,” Andiola said in a new video alongside her mother and brother. “This is not only something that happened to my family, this is something that happens every single day in the community. We know there are stories out there that we want to know about. My family wants to encourage you to come out and tell your story. If you know someone who has been deported … if you yourself are in deportation proceedings.”

In her letter, Andiola tells McCain and Flake to ready themselves for the activation of a national movement that will seek to right the immigration system’s many wrongs as the country prepares to tackle immigration reform in the coming weeks. Read the rest of her letter here.

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