Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has hired a high-profile Arizona immigration activist to assist his campaign with outreach to Latinos, an increasingly important voting bloc.
Erika Andiola, a 28-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, will join the Sanders campaign as a Latino outreach strategist for the Southwest. She starts work for the campaign today. Her boyfriend, Cesar Vargas, a prominent immigration activist from New York, also recently was hired by the Sanders campaign to work on Latino outreach.
Andiola is one of the most respected and well-known immigration activists in the country. She was 11 years old when she and her family came to the United States illegally to escape domestic violence. She now has a work permit and protection from deportation, thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but she still doesn't have a lawful status.
Through a Facebook post, Andiola said she trusts that Sanders will put families before politics, take executive action on immigration when possible or needed, stop the incarceration and deportation of immigrants, and work to find the “right solutions regardless of corporate pushback.”
Her hiring comes at a time when Sanders is trying to improve name recognition among Latino voters. A recent Noticias Univisión poll found that 68 percent of the Latino Democratic voters surveyed said they didn’t know or hadn’t formed an opinion of Sanders. Meanwhile, 68 percent said they have a favorable opinion of Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Andiola gained national attention in 2013 when she posted a tearful video on YouTube moments after immigration officials came to her home in Mesa and arrested her undocumented mother and brother.
“We need to do something. We need to stop separating families,” Andiola said in the video that went viral. “This is real. This is so real. This is not just happening to me, this is happening to families everywhere.”
Immigrant and Latino advocates across the country quickly sprang into action and began demanding that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement release Andiola’s mother and brother. They ultimately were released and allowed to temporarily stay in the country. Andiola’s mother was on a bus heading to Mexico to be deported when the bus was ordered to turn around.
“Erika’s personal story as a Mexican undocumented woman with an undocumented family and a long history of advocacy for Latinos speaks directly to the campaign’s commitment to fight for immigrants, Latinos, and working-class Americans in every community across the country,” Arturo Carmona, the Latino outreach director for the Sanders campaign, told Fusion in a statement.
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Andiola first got involved with the immigration movement in 2008 after Arizona voters approved Proposition 300, a ballot initiative that prohibits undocumented students from paying in-state tuition and receiving state and federal financial aid. She lost her scholarship because of it but was able to continue her education at Arizona State University, thanks to a private scholarship.
During that time, she met other undocumented students who faced similar situations, and together they formed the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, named after a bill in Congress that sought to pave a path to citizenship for undocumented young immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Since then, Andiola has traveled across the country advocating for immigration reform and fighting against the deportation of families. She also co-founded the immigration advocacy group, Dream Action Coalition, and served as a congressional staffer for Arizona Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema.
Andiola now joins a handful of other prominent immigration activists who’ve been hired to work for Democratic presidential candidates. The Clinton campaign, for example, recently hired Lorella Praeli from the immigrant rights group United We Dream to work as the Latino outreach director.