Activists Marielena Hincapié & Erika Andiola

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Hincapié and Andiola weigh in on the DREAM Act and the struggle for immigrant rights.

Marielena Hincapié is the executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which plays a lead role in issues affecting immigrants in the U.S. Highly respected for her legal, political and alliance-building strategies, as well as her ability to connect with both Spanish- and English-speaking communities, she started with the Center as a staff attorney and then served as the its director of programs. She previously founded the Immigrant Workers' Rights Project at the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco's Employment Law Center. An immigrant from Colombia who grew up in Rhode Island, Hincapié holds a J.D. from Northwestern University.

At age 11, when her family fled domestic violence in Mexico and came to the U.S., Erika Andiolo didn't plan to be a national face of immigration reform. She became an honors student and enrolled at Arizona State. But, without legal documentation, she lost her scholarships when Arizona passed laws affecting immigrants and began her fight for immigrant students. She's since dedicated herself to championing the DREAM Act and has worked with senior officials in the administration and members of Congress. Andiola has co-founded and been involved with several grassroots organizations and is currently co-director of the DRM Action Coalition.


Tavis Smiley: We are in need now, I think, of some seminal legislation on the issue of immigration. President Obama has promised to look into options for a more humane approach to our immigration policies, in light of the fact that under his administration there have been more deportations than in any other previous presidency.

Earlier today, here in Los Angeles, activists met to consider new strategies to change U.S. policies. Among them, activists Erika Andiola, who was brought to this country as a child, and Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, which convened the grassroots conference here on the West Coast. Good to have you both on this program.

Marielena Hincapié: Good to be here.

Erika Andiola: Thank you.

Tavis: It is interesting, as I said a moment ago, Marielena, that we commemorate, celebrate 50 years since the passenger of the Civil Rights Act in ’64, the Voting Rights Act in ’65. Here we are, 50 years later, in need of, many people believe, some real, meaningful immigration reform for millions of Americans whose status is in jeopardy and unclear.

With that as a backdrop, give me some sense of what you all were doing with this, in this conference today here in L.A.

Hincapié: So thank you, Tavis. The timing of this is really important because we brought together about 42 grassroots organizations from around the country, over 40 states represented, a lot from the South, because the immigration issue is playing out in the South most severely, just like in the civil rights movement as well.

What’s at stake really is about our civil and human rights in this country, and it’s about the future of our nation and what it means to be a citizen and what it means to have full citizenship.

We’ve got over 11 million people in our country today with U.S. citizen children, with deep ties to our communities, who are basically completely being marginalized and being deported, as you said, under this administration in record numbers.

We are about to break the two million mark. This is more than all people deported in the last century alone. It is really a disgrace that under this administration, this is the level of deportations that we have.

Tavis: How do you explain that? And I guess you can’t because you’re not Barack Obama, you’re not Eric Holder. But I know, we all know, the president had some comments to make days ago after meeting with Congressman Becerra, Congressman Gutierrez out of L.A. and Chicago, respectively.

So he’s been getting pushed on this really hard, as he should have been, given the number of votes he picked up both times around from your particular community.

But how do you explain that? How do you juxtapose “I’m a friend of the Hispanic community” on the one hand, but “I’m deporting y’all in record numbers” on the other hand?

Hincapié: The president has both the legal and the moral authority to take the action administratively through his executive authority to change these deportation policies.

I have some hope that because of the grassroots pressure, including many of the groups that were here in Los Angeles today, we will be able to get those changes done over the next 30, 60, 90 days.

Tavis: What’s been – before I talk to Erika, what’s been his reason for not doing that? He does have the moral obligation, I think; he certainly has the opportunity to use his pen to do this.

So it’s not a question of political skill, it’s a question of political will. What has been his rationale to date for not doing what he does, in fact, have the authority to do?

Hincapié: Well, I think he’s waiting on Congress to act. The administration, if you listened to the State of the Union address earlier this year, on every issue, every domestic issue, he said he was going to use his pen, except on immigration.

He has been holding back, creating the space, allowing Speaker Boehner to act, and he has not acted. If the Republicans don’t act and don’t enact immigration reform, they will be held accountable.

This is about the future of the Republican Party basically disappearing because they are anti-immigrant, anti-women – we can go down the path.

Tavis: Right.

Hincapié: So the president, unfortunately, I think again, politically, he believes that Congress needs to act, and he’s waiting on Congress. We’re saying that’s fine, wait till Congress acts, but you also need to act right now.

This government should be able to work on parallel strategies, just like we as advocates are working on parallel strategies.

Tavis: So what should he be doing that he’s not doing while he’s waiting on Congress to do what it ought to do?

Hincapié: So we believe that the first thing is to extend the deferred action for childhood arrivals program to the 11 million people who are here. As long as the government is analyzing these cases on a case-by-case basis, legally, this administration, like any previous administration, can change the law and say they’re going to exercise their prosecutorial discretion.

Use resources in a more fair, humane, and fiscally responsible way as well, to make sure that these current policies don’t lead to more racial profiling, more discrimination, and just to restore some order to our system.

Tavis: So I saved the last few minutes of our conversation, Erika, for you, because you are the living epistle, the quintessential example of what I mean when I say it’s a moral question.

So I don’t want to color this first question too much. Take your time, I’ve got a few minutes. Tell me your story. Tell me about you, tell me about your mom, tell me about your brother, just tell me the story of what happened and where we are now in your personal journey.

Andiola: Yeah, for sure. So I am myself something that has been called a Dreamer for a couple of years now, after the actual legislation of the DREAM Act. But I was brought here when I was 11. I came with my mom and my siblings, and through college I realized that it was harder, because of my status.

So through that, through going through – Arizona has anti-immigrant laws right now that don’t allow students to have in-state tuition, so through that we started getting empowered and we started organizing. There’s been a couple of years now –

Tavis: You were going to school where?

Andiola: Arizona State University.

Tavis: Arizona State. Okay, go ahead.

Andiola: Yeah, I am from Arizona. So through this, we started getting empowered, we started coming out of the shadows, telling our stories. For me, it was, I got to that point that I said nothing’s going to happen to my family because they’ve been so out there.

I’m so protective by this. All of a sudden, after I get my first job ever with my Social Security number that I got through (unintelligible), I get home and that same night my mom is raided.

Our home is raided. They take my mom; they take my brother in front of me and my other younger brother. So to me, it was just a sort of wake-up call that I do have deferred action.

I have now Social Security, but at the same time my family is so vulnerable. So that really, when I called a lot of the folks that have been organizing, we were able to stop my mom’s deportation, thank God.

We had thousands of calls and petitions to the White House and DHS, and through that we were able to turn a bus around that had my mom in it.

Tavis: Your mom was literally on the bus –

Andiola: She was –

Tavis: – headed to the border.

Andiola: – literally on the way to Mexico, and that’s when all the pressure – and this is all overnight. They went to my house at 9:00 p.m.; she got released at 9:00 in the morning. So through the middle of the night, the entire country mobilized and we were able to put so much pressure on the White House and DHS that they had to call the driver to go back.

Tavis: What’s the status of your mother and your brother at the moment?

Andiola: So my mom has a little bit of a more difficult case. She has something called a re-entry charge, that it’s what’s keeping a lot of undocumented immigrants from being able to fight a deportation case.

So her case is different, it’s harder, so she was ordered to be deported right away, and we were able to stop the deportation. But now she was given a year stay, so that means that in that year she’s going to be supervised by ICE.

She has to go back to check in with them, and then it’s going to be under discretion whether they want to let her stay more.

My brother has a different case. He wasn’t supposed to be taken in the first place. It was just because he was there that he was taken. So he is going to have court, and the judge is going to decide what to do with him. So we’re still waiting for that.

Tavis: Has your mom been working since she’s been in this country?

Andiola: She was actually working in Arizona when Sheriff Arpaio, which is our sheriff – he did a raid. He raided a couple of parks. She was working there. They took her documents, and that was the very first time that our house got raided. So our house has been raided twice.

The first time was by the sheriff, and we weren’t there, but they took my uncle. So throughout my story and my personal experience, we’ve dealt a lot with the enforcement that this has caused and the power that the federal government has given to Arizona.

We blame a lot of times just Arpaio and Brewer and our state government, but the reality is that programs that the administration has put out there has really helped them enforce those laws, so.

Tavis: That’s tragic. Let me close on this note, Marielena. Where tonight do you place any hope that this issue can be addressed? Because if you look at – I’m not an optimist, but I am a prisoner of hope.

Optimism suggests that you can look at something, see something, feel something, touch something that makes you believe that things are going to get better, and that’s not, I’m not an optimist about this, but I’m a prisoner of hope.

But I’m looking at the reality – so the president has not been, as yet, pushed hard enough, I think, to do what ought to be done.

Congress, to your earlier point, is looking the other way. John Boehner’s made it very clear that this is not – nothing comprehensive is going to get through the House.

Senate’s done its part and we’re waiting on the House, so I’m just trying to get a sense, in an election year, where you think the energy, the traction is going to come from to actually get anything done in 2014?

Hincapié: So I think that change is going to come administratively. I think I want to just echo Erika’s point about her mother. The fact that this administration has the ability – and the question is, do they have the political will – to at the very least say that they are no longer going to deport, that they will eliminate the category of those who came back and reentered the country simply because they were desperately trying to be reunited with their citizen children.

The fact that today a mother who gets deported, if she doesn’t make her way back to the United States, she will lose her rights, her parental rights, because that child will be put into foster care system and put up for adoption.

The human risk that immigrants are willing to take is what I have hope in. I know that the courage will continue, the resilience will continue, and that under the new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Secretary Jay Johnson, I’m hopeful.

I am hopeful that we will get the changes that we’re asking for administratively. There is no time left for review, Tavis. This is time for action, and this is the moment where this administration, President Obama needs to start worrying about his legacy. What will he be remembered for throughout history?

Tavis: I was just about to ask – you talk about legacy, he’s safely in his second term, he will never stand for reelection again, what’s he got to lose? What’s the –

Hincapié: Nothing.

Tavis: Yeah.

Hincapié: Absolutely nothing, which is why we’re saying, we’re demanding change. We’re demanding actual changes now, not three months from now, not six months from now.

Tavis: Marielena, thank you for your work and your leadership. Erika, yours as well.

Hincapié: Thank you.

Andiola: Thank you.

Tavis: (Unintelligible) Hope the conference was good today. I hope something good comes out of it. Good to have you on the program.

Hincapié: Thank you, Tavis.

Andiola: Thank you for having us.

Tavis: My pleasure.

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Last modified: April 1, 2014 at 5:35 pm