It’s safe to say that Erika Andiola never imagined herself on the national stage advocating for immigration reform or the rights of immigrants, but as is often the case when stuck between a rock and a hard place, necessity often facilitates action. Erika has been in action mode for most of her adult life and has had to bear witness to the inaction of both political parties since the DREAM Act was first introduced in 2001. 18 years later, the DREAM Act lays dormant in Congress and comprehensive immigration reform seems all but unattainable.
It’s no secret that under the Obama Administration more undocumented immigrants were deported under Obama’s terms as President than any other President before him resulting in immigrant advocacy groups dubbing him, “The Deporter In Chief.” However, it’s worthy to note that despite the elevated numbers of deportations under President Obama, it is President Trump’s deportation policies that have caused wide-spread fear, pain and suffering, and intentionally inflicted long-term trauma on immigrant human beings. Trump’s immigration policies have been so cruel and inhumane, that everyday people began responding by creating actions, events, and fundraisers to help support immigrants at the Southern Border.
The most notable of digital actions occurred just after Trump announced his plan to intentionally separate children from their families as a way to discourage other people from attempting to enter the United States – as a legal asylum seeker or otherwise.
The message Trump was trying to send was: we don’t care why you’re coming, if you do come, we will take your children.
In response to the cruelty of this policy amongst the overall callousness of the Trump Administration in general, a Facebook fundraiser famously raised over $20 million dollars for the immigrant legal aid service, RAICES, based in Texas.
As advocates and everyday people continue to advocate for a humane, smart, and fair immigration system, Erika once again embarks on the next chapter of her immigration chapter. Two forces have now joined in the fight for immigrant justice – RAICES and Erika Andiola.
RAICES announced mid-January that Erika would be joining the team as their Chief Advocacy Officer. Luz Collective asked Erika to tell us about her new role and what that means for the immigration landscape.
LC: You just joined RAICES as their Chief Advocacy Officer. What does that mean exactly? What kind of work will you be doing?
EA: I will be heading the RAICES Advocacy Department. The team works on media relations, social media, video, internal communications and public policy/advocacy. Advocacy has been growing and working in close collaboration with the legal and outreach teams, adding an effective media and organizing arm to the organization’s legal and programmatic resources.
LC: What are your thoughts on how we address the extreme political climate for immigrants with people like the President and others in elected office who are continuously demonizing immigrants and putting out false information about immigrants?
EA: Because Trump and company have been trying to use misinformation and fear tactics to win over the American public, it’s our job to show the real faces and tell the true stories of what is happening at the border and throughout the country. From continuing to empower undocumented folks to tell their own stories, to uplifting the stories of those fleeing Central America and other countries, we have to use every platform to tell the truth. We must also keep organizing at the grassroots level and continue to put pressure on political leaders to do the right thing. Lastly, we have to ensure that those political leaders who are on our side really understand the issue and push for solutions that will not only contrast what Tump is saying, but that also offer real relief to migrants, immigrants, and refugees.
LC: How does your past experience in being a leader in the immigration reform movement inform your work now?
EA: Growing up in Arizona allowed me to experience the Trump agenda at the local level, even before Trump was president and under a Democratic president. I have been able to keep my eyes on the prize and therefore know that different times require different strategy and tactics. I was blessed to be part of the fight to stop deportations under Obama, for DACA, DAPA, the DREAM Act and many local fights that taught me how important storytelling, organizing and building grassroots power are to be able to win. We are no longer pressuring a president who ran on a pro-immigrant platform, to the contrary, we are facing an immigrant’s worst nightmare. But just like we learned in Arizona when facing Joe Arpaio and Jan Brewer, when can defeat hate when we come together and organize.
LC: What is the ultimate goal or the main goals of your work with RAICES?
EA: The goal is to strengthen the incredible advocacy work that RAICES has been doing with immigrants, migrants, and refugees. Now more than ever, we need the voice of RAICES to be lifted up in the current conversation. The organization has worked with hundreds of migrants, undocumented folks, and refugees and needs to play a central role in showing the American people what is the REAL crisis happening in this country. The real crisis in America is hundreds of children in metal cages, mothers separated from their children in the cruelest of ways, and migrants leaving violence and poverty only to find themselves in prison cells or cages for months or years. We have the stories and we have the experts to talk about the real facts. Ultimately, we will work tirelessly to end policies that are meant to hurt immigrant children, families, and refugees, and push for real solutions to our immigration system.