There was a knock on the front door of the home of Erika Andiola, a prominent DREAM Act activist, who was featured on Time magazine’s cover of undocumented immigrants in June, at 9 p.m. on Thursday in Phoenix, Arizona.
Andiola answered the door and found Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who asked her where her mother was. The agents removed Maria Arreola, 54, and Erika’s brother who would not answer questions from agents.
“They showed up without a warrant and asked for my mother,” Andiola told NBC Latino, through tears. “They asked my brother for things but he didn’t want to ask questions so they took him. But he was released this morning and he’s here with me now.”
Andiola’s biggest fear was that her mother would be removed from the country because she was taken from the detention center in Phoenix to the one in Florence, which is often the step before deportation. But Barbara Gonzalez, ICE press secretary confirms that removal has been stayed and Arreola will be released imminently.
“One of two individuals detained by ICE in Phoenix, AZ has been released. The other individual will be released imminently. Although one individual had been previously removed from the country, an initial review of these cases revealed that certain factors outlined in ICE’s prosecutorial discretion policy appear to be present and merit an exercise of discretion. A fuller review of the cases is currently on-going. ICE exercises prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis, considering the totality of the circumstances in an individual case.”
ICE says it did not target the relatives of Andiola because of her role with the Dream Act Coalition. She says ICE agents said there was a long-pending deportation order for her mother but that she questions whether that actually prompted the arrest.
David Leopold, the former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and current general counsel for the organization, says he saw news of Arreola’s removal on Facebook and Twitter, where a petition was started and organizations like United We Dream took to spreading the news using the #WeAreAndiola hashtag and #SomosAndiola. Leopold contacted lawyers in Washington D.C., who he says moved the information up the chain, where he eventually learned ICE would be holding off on deportation.
“Sometimes one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing,” he said of having to make people aware of ICE’s actions. “I would like to think there are far better ways to spend the tax dollars of the American people than removing somebody’s mother. This is a case that called for discretion.”
But Leopold says once again Facebook and Twitter show how much they can accomplish.
“It shows you the power of social media,” he says. “The daughter is a very prominent dreamer so it makes sense. But this is what happens day in and day out and many people are being removed who don’t have the advantage of social media or of being well-known.
Andiola spoke about how she feels now that he mother is being released.
“It makes me extremely happy to know my mom is on her way home but it makes me extremely sad to know we have to get thousands of people involved to stop one deportation,” she said, with emotion in her voice.
“I’ve never gone through this on a personal level. To see my mother and my brother taken from me – I am never going to forget that and never going to stop fighting this. We want president Obama to keep his word on immigration reform.”