Within hours of an immigration raid on her family’s home last night, the mother and brother of undocumented immigrant activist Erika Andiola’s family were released from immigration detention this morning. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has indicated that it will likely exercise prosecutorial discretion in their cases, the Huffington Post reported. The swift response came even though Andiola’s mother Maria Arreola and brother Heriberto Andiola Arreola are undocumented, and faced likely deportation.
The flurry of public outrage and social media attention around the case—see the steady stream of tweets on the hashtag #WeAreAndiola—has highlighted two things: the power of the immigrant youth movement and the striking regularity and cruelty with which immigration agents break up everyday families in the country.
On Thursday night immigration officers knocked on Andiola’s Arizona home and asked for her mother, Andiola told reporters on a press call this morning. They handcuffed Arreola and asked Andiola’s older brother Heriberto, who was standing outside the home, if he was related to the family. When he refused to answer questions about his immigration status, he was arrested as well. Both were taken into custody and Andiola was notified that her mother faced imminent deportation because she had a prior outstanding deportation order against her. While in custody, Andiola’s brother told her immigration officers had a file on Andiola herself, and when immigration officers came to her home they did not, as is common practice, ask Andiola for her own status. She has work authorization and a social security number.
But, Andiola, a prominent activist who co-founded the Arizona Dream Act Coalition and has been an outspoken leader of the immigrant youth movement, quickly activated her extensive network, which include powerful national immigration rights organizations like the National Immigration Law Center, America’s Voice and DreamActivist.org. “I immediately started contacting different folks, people in my community and people in the movement,” Andiola said. “Thank God I got a lot of really great support from people I had worked with in the past and right now.” But the vast majority of the over 400,000 immigrants who were deported by President Obama last year did not have their cases amplified by social media and seized upon for quick mobilization by a national movement.
Andiola and immigrant rights groups have used her exceptional public stature to highlight the utter normalcy of Andiola’s heartwrenching experience of seeing her mother and brother taken from their home. The vast majority of those who are detained and deported are like Andiola’s mother, people who get swept up into the immigration system when they are pulled over for minor traffic offenses or for committing the offense of looking potentially undocumented. “There is a larger point here,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of the immigration reform group America’s Voice. “The raid on Erika’s house and detention and near deportation of her mother and brother, these are not isolated incidents. They happen every day in every state.”
“This is what 400,000 deportations a year looks like,” Sharry said.
But the conventional wisdom, forged by undocumented youth, is that those who are open and public about their immigration status stand a better chance at defending themselves against deportation. Time and again, immigrant youth networks have successfully protected members of the community from deportation by activating their networks to put pressure on and publicly shame the Obama administration into following its own policies. “Erika is fortunate that she was who she was,” said Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “ICE knew not to detain her, but … we cannot continue fighting each of these deportation cases one DREAMer at a time, one worker at a time, one family at a time,” Hincapie said.
Immigrant youth have been here before. In 2007, three days after the late Tam Tran testified in a House immigration subcommittee hearing about her experience as a young undocumented immigrant, immigration agents raided her family’s Southern California home and arrested her father, mother and brother. At the time ICE also denied that Tran’s activism was at all related to the raid. California Rep. Zoe Lofgren disagreed, telling USA Today: “Would she and her family have been arrested if she hadn’t spoken out? I don’t think so.” Tran’s family was eventually released.
But it’s 2013, and possible politically motivated retaliation aside—something ICE has denied—there are more avenues for immigration officials to come after undocumented immigrant families today. Andiola’s family lives in Arizona, which is enforcing Section 2b—the famed “show me your papers” provision—of SB 1070. And with Secure Communities, the federal government calls on police to do effectively what SB 1070 attempted, but all over the country.
“The detention of Erika’s mom is the latest case of a government agency that is out of control, which continues to target hardworking community members,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, a national network of immigrant youth organizations. Andiola’s experience, Jimenez said, “really grounds the work of DREAMers that will continue to put the pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to work on a solution that provides a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and for our families.”