Sept. 15 marked the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month — or, as it is known in Spanish, Mes de la Herencia Hispana — a time when the United States pays tribute to the history, culture and contributions of past and present Hispanic Americans.
According to the 2010 Census, 50.5 million Americans identify as Hispanic — and that number is growing. Immigration has long been a part of America’s national history, and the role that immigrants have played — and still play — in building this country is one of the reasons “the American dream” is still shared around the world today. America is a place where new beginnings and new lives are possible.
Over the next month, msnbc.com will be profiling outstanding Hispanic activists who are making a difference in the fight for immigration reform and who are providing critical support services to undocumented communities.
Name: Erika Andiola
City, State: Mesa, Arizona
Occupation/Organization: Co-director, Dream Action Coalition
How did you get involved with immigration advocacy?
I got involved in 2008 when Arizona passed Proposition 300, which was a law that banned undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition and caused my scholarships to be taken away from me. At the same time, my mom’s workplace was raided by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and he raided my home and took my uncle. All this motivated a group of undocumented students at Arizona State University to start organizing for the DREAM Act and against Arizona’s anti-immigrant measures. We all got introduced to each other through a private fund for DREAMers and from there we formed the Arizona Dream Action Coalition.
Give us a sense of what your day looks like.
My days are all so different. As much as I try to keep a routine, I fail almost every day because I am either traveling to organize, or meetings come up. I travel from state to state, or often to Washington, D.C., organizing action or training undocumented youth. I try to take care of myself as much as I can by going to the gym or walking my dogs, but it is not always possible. I also help my mom when she sells Mexican food to help us with the bills.
What is the biggest misconception about immigration reform/undocumented immigrants?
I think the biggest misconception is that the only fix to all of our troubles will be for the Democratic Party to gain complete power of the government and pass this huge package of legislative changes that will fix our immigration system. It sounds like the perfect plan, except that we have tried it before and it didn’t work because of lack of accountability from our “allies.” In 2010, the Democratic House and Senate couldn’t even pass the DREAM Act, which is supposed to be the easiest piece of legislation to pass. As undocumented youth, we have thought outside the “CIR” [comprehensive immigration reform] box and we continue the pressure to gain immediate relief for our families, even if we have to hold accountable our “allies” and it feels uncomfortable to the Beltway politicians in D.C. We pushed the Dream Act as a stand-alone bill, we pressured the president to give us DACA, we have passed state DREAM Acts and we are now going to fight deportations, even if it has to be one by one, until President Obama reverses his deportation strategy. Deporting millions is never a good strategy to pass immigration reform.
What is your expectation of President Obama and Congress in regard to the border crisis? Were you surprised by the president’s decision to delay executive action until after the midterms?
I am not surprised, but I was deeply devastated when I heard the news. The week before the expected announcement, we held a workshop for the community, asking them to be ready for this big policy change. Many were collecting paperwork and expressed their excitement about being able to work. One of our members was still detained in Florence Detention Center, and was looking forward to being released with this announcement. None of that happened, and many continue to be deported. Even more disappointing was hearing the president blame the children for this decision.
What type of help is most needed on the ground and how can one get involved?
As a community, we need to learn who we are voting for. Being a Latino doesn’t mean that we are automatically Democrat or Republican; it means that we are the biggest minority in this country, and no party has us in their hand if we know their records. We also need to remember that democracy doesn’t stop at the polls, it continues as we hold accountable those who we elect. Let’s continue to be involved in our communities! And for those who are undocumented, keep your head up. We are humans and we will continue to fight to be treated as that.
What keeps you motivated every day?
My mother is my biggest inspiration. She was almost deported in 2013 and can still be deported any time. Her struggle got closer to my community and now we have an army of amazing dreamers, parents, undocuqueers and many others who push me and inspire me to be a better person every day. We can’t stop until our communities are no longer deported, no longer incarcerated, have access to education and dignified work, and until we are treated as what we are: human beings.