Erika Andiola is a prominent activist for immigrant rights and one of the most well-known leaders of the DREAMer movement, which fought for a bill to grant legal status to undocumented youth in the United States. Her activism was born out of necessity: She knew she had to get involved when her hometown of Arizona passed a slate of bills that punished immigrant children, increased local policing of anyone who was "reasonably suspected" to be in the US illegally, and subjected her community to unprecedented stops and arrests. In 2013, her own house was raided, and immigration enforcement detained her mother and her brother. "This is one of my passions because I'm personally affected by it," she explained over the phone.
Andiola has since received an exemption from deportation under the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Still, she says there's a long way to go to reform a system that criminalizes people who seek out jobs or refuge in this country without the proper paperwork. Between 2009 and 2015, 2.5 million people have been detained and deported. She has continued this work after being tapped by Sen. Bernie Sanders earlier this year to build his campaign's immigration platform and lead Latino outreach.
As a fervent Sanders supporter, Andiola has been critical of Hillary Clinton throughout this election on a number of issues. But even though she continues works for the Senator under the banner of his organization, Our Revolution, Andiola says that it's important to continue the battle for comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship by voting for the Democratic presidential nominee. We talked with the activist about why she's encouraging the Latino community to vote for Clinton—and what she thinks Clinton needs to do to support the Latino community in return.
BROADLY: How did you end up working for the Sanders campaign?
Erika Andiola: It was an interesting thing. I was working at an organization called the DRM Action Coalition and we decided to start pushing all of the presidential candidates to adopt a very progressive immigration platform that came out of the DREAMer movement. We were talking to the Hillary, Sanders, and the O'Malley campaign. All of the things that we were pushing for were not very well received by the Hillary campaign. When we went to the Bernie campaign and had a conversation, they wanted me to come on board and help us put together their [immigration] platform and do outreach to the Latino community. I was definitely excited to do it. We created the most progressive immigration platform that any candidate has had.
What were some of the specific policies that you were trying to get the candidates to adopt?
I think that a lot of folks who are specifically affected by our immigration policies know that the issue is also with our criminal justice system. More and more immigrants are basically getting criminalized. The way in which the Obama administration handled the issue created more of a problem for many of us. Immigration enforcement at the local level has been working a lot closer with the police. There's a lot of people getting deported. Basically, the administration created an entire machine of enforcement, and we didn't get a path to citizenship.
We were very excited about Obama coming into office and promising immigration reform. Then we realized that the strategy he pushed forward ending up criminalizing and deporting a ton of immigrants. We wanted to make sure the platform we were pushing would not make the same mistakes. We want the next president to understand that they have the ability to stop this entire deportation machine within the first 100 days. We were able to push Hillary Clinton on this, specifically [on her stance] on the children that were coming from Central America, and we got far. But we still need to go further.
Do you still have reservations about Clinton, or are you voting for her on November 8th?
Well, I can't vote. I would love to vote because there's a lot of reasons why it's important. I joke around and say that I'm off the hook for this one. But in all seriousness, we need to be pragmatic; Bernie [and a lot of his campaign's supporters] decided that when it comes to Hillary we need to be pragmatic. People like myself, my mother, my siblings, and a lot of the people that I know and have fought with are going to be in the worst situation if Trump wins. I've been telling folks in battleground states—like Arizona, where I'm from—just go vote for Hillary. Go get a drink after if you need to. It's so important that we're not empowering Donald Trump. It would be a disaster. People are still angry because we had a primary that wasn't really the most fair primary, but at the same time, this is just the beginning. We can't live like [Election Day] is the end of the world. The world is going to continue and we can do a lot more work to push Hillary in the right direction.
One of the things that Bernie said repeatedly throughout his run is that this is not just a political campaign to get somebody elected. It's the beginning of a movement to push the entire country to the left on a lot of issues: raising the minimum wage, immigration, criminal justice. Right now, I think that's exactly what we need to start strategizing for. [Hillary] is going to have a lot of political pressure from republicans, from Wall Street, and from the millionaire class. We have to really create the momentum to push against those interests. That's when the real battle is going to start.
What would be the most impactful thing that Hillary could do as president for immigration reform?
Well, she has promised to introduce a reform bill within the first 100 days, but I think we need to acknowledge that she's going to receive a lot of backlash from House Republicans, and they are going to try to stop her from doing what she wants to do. I think the first 100 days has to be focused on [using executive action] to undo the programs enforced by the Obama administration to incarcerate immigrants and arrest immigrants at the local level—programs like 287 g and the Priority Enforcement Program—closing down detention centers, and un-funding them. There's an entire list of things that the administration has the power to do, but that they have not done under Obama.
This whole narrative of felons versus families is not the starting point. There's a lot of immigrants who are felons, but they're not bad people. They are felons because there's a system that has [criminalized immigration]. I have friends who have felonies just because they were working [without a visa]. They ended up in detention centers and they ended up being deported. It's not going to be enough to have a bill introduced that doesn't go anywhere.
It sounds like you're a bit pessimistic about Hillary's commitment to the progressive ideals she has adopted.
I'm not pessimistic. I think I'm just cautious. Politics isn't black and white. Many of us are in a position where we didn't necessarily support Hillary's candidacy, but we cannot afford to have a Trump presidency. We have to think ahead; Hillary still has not come out against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The day after she's elected, we're going to be letting her know about the issues that we're expecting her to lead on. Along with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the DAPL is really going to be the first test of whether she's going to be on the side of the people or the side of corporations.
What would you say to someone who is so dissatisfied with Hillary that they're considering voting for Trump?
I have friends who want to sit out or are just really fed up with the whole election. I tell them to really think about who is going to be the person who is harder to hold accountable. On one hand, we have someone who has adopted a really progressive platform, and on the other hand we have someone who doesn't give—excuse my language—a F. It's going to be easier to get Hillary to do the things we've been advocating for than Trump, who has shown no reservation about attacking our community. Muslims, Mexicans, and women are going to be at the front line when it comes to having to deal with the mess of a Trump administration. He has said it over and over again: We're the first ones that he's going to go after. There's real consequences if Trump gets into office.