SAN DIEGO — Did you hear about the DREAMer who got a rude awakening?
The term refers to the estimated 1.4 million undocumented young people who might have benefited from the DREAM Act, which would have offered legal status in exchange for attending college or joining the military. The bill was scuttled in late 2010 by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Most of these young people, brought to the United States as children by their parents, are wise enough to not draw attention. But a small group of activists, succumbing to the narcissistic culture of their adopted country, thrives on it.
These activists think of themselves as full-fledged Americans who can get away with the kind of in-your-face agitation that has been prevalent since the 1960s. But, as I have written, their arrogance and radicalism alienates supporters and puts them in jeopardy from a Department of Homeland Security that harasses the Latino immigrant community.
The activist who received the wake-up call is 25-year-old Erika Andiola, the co-founder of the Phoenix-based Arizona Dream Act Coalition and a 2009 graduate of Arizona State University. An undocumented immigrant, Andiola has been arrested after camping out in front of the Phoenix office of Sen. John McCain. She also picketed outside the U.S. Capitol. She appeared on the cover of Time magazine along with other DREAMers. And when the Senate spiked the DREAM Act, she joined a group of plaintiffs who sued that legislative body.
For someone who is not even supposed to be in this country, and could be removed at any time, this is not what you call maintaining a low profile.
Nonetheless, Andiola’s activism has also helped her establish a national network of friends, allies and supporters – one that, as you’re about to see, can be mobilized at a moment’s notice. That’s good to have when you’re an undocumented immigrant living in Barack Obama’s America, where you can be on a magazine cover one minute and have to take cover the next.
DREAMers must have felt empowered when one of them spoke at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. But who speaks for them when a Democratic administration tries to deport them or their relatives?
That’s what happened to Erika’s mother, Maria Arreola, who was recently arrested at home by federal immigration agents and hauled off in handcuffs along with Erika’s brother. (The DREAMer was not apprehended because she has been granted deferred action and given a two-year work permit.)
According to media accounts, Arreola was stopped last year by an officer with the police department in Mesa, Ariz., a suburb of Phoenix, and detained for driving without a license. Consistent with Secure Communities, a program that the Obama administration has been trying to make mandatory throughout the country, her fingerprints were sent to federal authorities. They found that Arreola was on a priority list for deportation. She had been apprehended in 1998, while illegally crossing the border into Arizona, and returned to Mexico. But she came back.
After the traffic stop, Andiola posted videos on YouTube of her mother being questioned by police and alleged that this was a case of racial profiling. She thus went from raising her own profile to raising that of her mother as well.
After the arrests of her mother and brother, Erika took to Facebook and Twitter to ask her network for help. She also posted a tearful video on YouTube to shake other DREAMers out of their sense of invincibility.
“I need everybody to stop pretending that nothing is wrong,” she said in the video, “that we’re all just living normal lives, because we’re not. This could happen to any of us anytime.”
After a few calls from immigration lawyers, Immigration and Customs Enforcement issued a stay of removal. The family has been reunited.
This looks like a happy ending, and the DREAMers think they’re more powerful than ever.
But is this really the end? Arreola could still be deported at any time. And Erika’s brother brought back a sinister message from ICE, which apparently has a file on the family. On a press call after the incident, Erika said: “They told my brother, ‘We know all about your sister, we know about what your sister does, and you should get away from that.’ ”
Andiola’s supporters insist that, if not for her activism, she wouldn’t have gotten the help she needed to free her family members. That’s true. But what they conveniently overlook is that, if not for her activism, she might not have needed it.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.