Jan. 16, 2013— -- A high-profile undocumented youth activist will be joining newly-elected Rep. Kyrsten Sinema's staff.
The Arizona Democrat has hired Erika Andiola, a leading DREAM Act advocate, to work as a district outreach staffer.
"We've hired Erika to be the outreach director for our office," Sinema said in an interview with ABC/Univision. "She's a very, very smart young woman with a history of advocacy."
Sinema and Andiola met in the early 2000s when the congresswoman was serving in the state legislature and Andiola was working as a young community organizer. She interviewed last week and was offered the position the same day her mother was detained by immigration officials.
Andiola's family, based in Phoenix, made the news last week when agents detained her mother and threatened her with deportation, although her mother was released after a public outcry from elected officials, including Sinema, and immigrant activists. Andiola used the incident to call on Arizona Republican Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain to lead on immigration reform.
"Thursday night I heard a banging knock at the door," she wrote on the DREAM Action Coalition website. "I looked through the window and immigration agents asked me to open the door, conducting an 'investigation.' They asked for Maria, my mother, and as soon she stepped out they abruptly, forcefully pulled her out and handcuffed her in front of me and Angel, my 16 year old brother."
"Senator McCain and Senator Flake, I am asking for your company to meet and hear the story of my family to ensure that your leadership is guided by the real stories of Arizona: the stories of a new generation of Americans and our struggle," she continued.
Sinema spoke with Andiola the night of the detention.
"She called me that evening," the congresswoman said. "We've known each other personally for a very long time and I tried to provide her with comfort."
The two have a lot in common. Andiola lives in Sinema's district, and both attended Arizona State University, where Sinema has taught for a decade and Andiola graduated from with honors in 2009.
As a student, Andiola has been involved in activism. She has been urging Washington leaders to pass the DREAM Act for years and was recently granted deportation relief under deferred action, a program that offers two-year reprieves from deportation to some undocumented young people.
Andiola has also been involved with Promise Arizona, a grassroots civic engagement organization aimed at recruiting a new generation of leaders, and she has worked countless hours promoting the DREAM Act. She has camped in front of congressional leader's offices and attended rallies. She has urged people to vote and spoken at workshops aimed at helping people apply for deferred action.
Andiola began working out of Sinema's Phoenix office Wednesday morning.
"She'll be focusing on groups like the labor community, the Latino community and student groups, which does include many DREAMers," Sinema said.
But she added that she hired Andiola for her community outreach abilities and history of activisim, not simply because she is a DREAMer.
"I hired Erika because of her skill set," Sinema said. "She's a smart, tenacious hard worker."
Arizona has some of the state's strictest immigration laws in place, including a "show me your papers" law that permits local law enforcement to ask suspects they think might be in the country without permission to prove otherwise.
The law was championed by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) and decried by the Obama administration. Brewer has also said her state will not award driver's licenses or other benefits to DREAMers in her state, such as Andiola, granted deferred action.
Andiola isn't the first DREAMer to be hired by a congressperson. Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Illinois), a key figure in the immigration debate and a vocal advocate of a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, recently hired a deferred action recipient to work at his district office in Chicago.