This Immigrant Rights Activist Is Celebrating the Supreme Court’s DACA Ruling

Supermajority Education Fund

June 18, 2020

The fight for immigrants’ rights is a personal one for Erika Andiola, who immigrated to the United States at 11 with her mother to flee from domestic violence. In 2009, while a student at Arizona State University, Andiola publicly identified herself as a Dreamer, and went on to co-found the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, an immigrant, youth-led organization focusing on the fight for higher education and immigrant rights.

Recently, Andiola — who is the Chief Advocacy Officer for The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) — spoke to Supermajority News about “Homeland Insecurity,” the new podcast she hosts, which is about the history of the Department of Homeland Security and how the agency has been weaponized against immigrants, as well as the barriers undocumented folks continue to face in this country.

Supermajority: Can you tell us about your background in advocacy and how you became the Chief Advocacy Officer of RAICES?

Erika Andiola: I started my advocacy in college, and the biggest reason for it was my own experience as an undocumented person. At the time, I was trying to graduate from college and also having a lot of difficulty being able to finish because of Arizona’s anti-immigration laws. [One law] denied students in-state tuition, or any type of financial aid, to undocumented students, so I found myself losing all of my financial aid, which I had worked really hard for. At the same time, my family had been raided for the first time by Joe Arpaio’s Deputy. That pushed me to start learning how to organize, learning about legislation at the local and federal levels. I got together with undocumented youth here in Arizona to start organizing and eventually started getting connected to the bigger Dreamer movement across the country. I became very outspoken about my status as an undocumented person and was a really big part of the DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] fight. 

What does the role of Chief Advocacy Officer entail?

To give you a little bit of background, RAICES started as a service provider organization, and [was founded] to support the immigrant community, refugees, and undocumented people. Eventually, it grew into a much bigger organization when it received a lot of support from the public in 2018. A lot of momentum was there around family separation; people were really enraged … the organization grew from less than 50,000 to now over 250,000 [members]. One of the main changes that happened is that RAICES became an advocacy organization as well. We not only provide resources to the immigrant community, but we’re also seeking to change the system, to use our voice, and to be able to amplify the voices of those we serve and organize those we serve so we can change policy throughout the country, and in Texas, where we have the biggest presence.

What led to the creation of the Homeland Insecurity podcast?

The way that it came about as an idea was a comment that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made at some point when she was trying to make the case about why we can abolish ICE [Immigrations and Customs Enforcement]. She mentioned that ICE and DHS [the Department of Homeland Security] as a whole agency didn’t exist in the past, so we can imagine a world without DHS being in the system. 

We kind of worked backward from that and thought about how we can go back into history to remind American people that these agencies weren’t there before 9/11 and that [DHS doesn’t secure] America from terrorism or, now, from a threat like COVID-19, but rather has become focused on targeting people like me. Through the podcast, we’re trying to answer the questions of how did DHS come about and how I, as an immigrant, became the enemy through the process through which they developed this “national security” framework. 

We have seen images of people at the border who have been put in literally cages — children included — and there is a whole culture of militarization happening at the border. Not only that, but there has been a ton of abuse. We know that border control has committed a lot of human rights abuses, but they get away with it because there’s not a lot of checks and balances or oversight within the agency. So, for us, it’s important for us to tell the story of how we ended up with an agency that is not necessarily focused on the humanitarian side [of immigration] but on the military style of “protecting” the border. 

What are some of the common misconceptions about the history of detention in this country?

There is a problem with the way in which we’ve used the narrative of who deserves to be in America and who doesn’t deserve to be in America. Unfortunately, as I lay out in the podcast, it hasn’t just been people on the right who have been pushing this narrative. There are people on the extreme side of the Republican party who have made this even worse, like our President, but even within the Democratic party, there’s a framing that people like myself — who are DACA recipients, who graduated from college, who have a lot more to contribute economically by getting a better job — are more deserving than [people like] my mother, whose story I tell in the podcast. She came to this country facing violence and was caught at the border with me when we crossed in 1998. She was labeled as “criminal” or a “bad immigrant” because she chose to cross the border without documents. Even though she did it out of necessity, she’s still seen by the government — even the Obama administration, and now the Trump administration — as “criminal” or a bad immigrant. It’s important for us to make the distinction between narrative and reality, and the reality is that there are a lot of people here who were forced to migrate, a lot of people here who have made mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they’re less deserving than someone like myself who went to college. So we just want to make sure that we drive home the point that we should not be creating more incarceration or detention for people who are seen as not as deserving by Democrats or Republicans. 

How has COVID-19 brought to light these issues, and how is RAICES responding to it? 

COVID-19 has surfaced the problems that were already there for the most vulnerable. We’re not given the protection and financial support we need. In detention centers, there are hundreds and hundreds of cases [of COVID-19] that are being reported, and there are many more that we believe haven’t been reported. 

We’ve also seen that a lot of undocumented workers have been forgotten when there was a stimulus package. The conversation around the stimulus package was around essential workers, and there were several articles about how many essential workers are also undocumented, yet when it came down to writing legislation and passing legislation, undocumented workers were completely erased out of the conversation. Undocumented folks and their families didn’t receive stimulus checks in the mail or in their bank accounts. 

There are more issues I can talk about, but we hope this podcast [will help] more Americans really connect the dots and reimagine this country as one where we’re not driven by insecurity and fear, but driven by a spirit of welcoming those who need it and welcoming people who want to come for good reasons, to make better lives and make this country better, and that our laws and policy reflect that.