Friday, January 11, 2013

After Immigration Arrests, Online Outcry, and Release

January 11, 2013

After Immigration Arrests, Online Outcry, and Release

New York Times

PHOENIX — Immigration agents arrested the mother and brother of a prominent activist during a raid at her home here late Thursday, unleashing a vigorous response on social media and focusing new attention on one of the most controversial aspects of the Obama administration’s policies on deportation.

The agents knocked on Erika Andiola’s door shortly after 9 p.m., asking for her mother, Maria Arreola.

Ms. Arreola had been stopped by the police in nearby Mesa last year and detained for driving without a license. Her fingerprints were sent to federal immigration officials as part of a controversial program called Secure Communities, which the Obama administration has been trying to expand nationwide.

That routine check revealed that Ms. Arreola had been returned to Mexico in 1998 after she was caught trying to illegally cross the border into Arizona with Erika and two of her siblings in tow. As a result, she was placed on a priority list for deportation.

After being seized on Thursday, she could have been sent back to Mexico in a matter of hours, but Obama administration officials moved quickly to undo the arrests. Officials had been pressured by the robust response from advocates — through phone calls, e-mails and online petitions, but primarily on Twitter, where they mobilized support for Ms. Andiola, a well-known advocate for young illegal immigrants, under the hashtag #WeAreAndiola.

The reaction offered the Obama administration a taste of what it might expect when it gets into the thick of the debate over an immigration overhaul, which Congress is expected to tackle this year. President Obama has already been under harsh criticism for the number of illegal immigrants deported since he took office — roughly 400,000 each year, a record unmatched since the 1950s.

Ms. Andiola, 25, posted a tearful video on YouTube shortly after her mother and brother were handcuffed and driven away. “I need everybody to stop pretending that nothing is wrong,” she said in the video, “stop pretending that we’re all just living normal lives, because we’re not. This could happen to any of us anytime.”

She is the co-founder of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, one of the groups pushing for a reprieve for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, as she was. She has been arrested while camped in front of Senator John McCain’s office here, protested outside the United States Capitol, and appeared on the cover of Time magazine in June under the headline, “We are Americans — just not legally.”

In November, Ms. Andiola got a work permit under a program begun by the Obama administration last year that gives certain young illegal immigrants temporary reprieve from deportation. She graduated from Arizona State University in 2009.

On Friday afternoon, her mother returned home from a detention center in Florence, 70 miles southeast of Phoenix and usually the last stop for certain illegal immigrants before they are deported. Her brother, Heriberto Andiola Arreola, 36, who had been kept in Phoenix, was let go earlier, at 6 a.m.

Their swift releases underline the power of the youth-immigrant movement and their social media activism, which was critical in spreading Ms. Andiola’s story overnight.

In a statement, Barbara Gonzalez, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said a preliminary review of the case revealed that it contains some of the elements outlined in the agency’s prosecutorial discretion policy and would “merit an exercise of discretion.”

Advocates have long argued that the policy has done little to keep families from being broken apart by deportations.

Ms. Andiola said in an interview that she told her mother to go to her room before opening the door Thursday night; she suspected the men standing outside worked for immigration. By the time the men came in, her brother, who was outside talking to a neighbor, was already in handcuffs, she said.

“Where’s Maria?” the men asked her, she recalled.

Ms. Arreola walked out of the room and, in Spanish, the men asked her to accompany them outside, where they placed her under arrest.

Though she and her son are free, their future is uncertain, as they could be arrested again while their cases are under review or deported should the eventual ruling go against them, said Marielena HincapiƩ, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, one of the groups helping the family.

Stories like this, Ms. HincapiĆ© went on, “happen every day, in every state,” outside of the media spotlight. What made it different this time is that Ms. Andiola had connections and wasted no time mobilizing them. There are others, she said, whom “you never hear about.”

Julia Preston contributed reporting from New York.

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