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Capitol Hill staffer quits job to fight mom’s deportation in Arizona

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WASHINGTON – Erika Andiola came to Washington expecting it would be the place to make a difference in the immigration reform fight – until the immigration fight hit closer to home.

Andiola on Wednesday said she quit her job in the office of Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix, to go home and focus on fighting the deportation of her mother, Maria Arreola of Mesa.

Mother and daughter cried at a news conference in front of the Capitol, as Arreola recalled being put in handcuffs and told she was being deported. But they vowed to fight, and win, the battle to let Arreola stay.

Not every Hill resignation is announced at a media event in the shadow of the Capitol, but Andiola’s statement is just the latest in a continuing campaign by reform advocates to keep pressure on Congress.

“It’s getting to be pretty surreal at this point,” said Jessica Vaughan, director of the Center of Immigration Studies, who said the rallies, fasts, prayer vigils and news conferences are becoming a normal thing in Washington.

Andiola said she was a child when she came to the U.S. illegally with her mother, and became very active at a young age in her support for immigration reform. She got a work visa and landed her first job as an outreach coordinator in Sinema’s office on Jan. 10 – the same day Arreola was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents and told she would be deported back to Mexico.

Andiola said she called every member of Congress she ever met and every pro-reform advocate to help her mom. She said that they were able to make enough noise that Arreola’s deportation was delayed, pending a January hearing.

Andiola, who has created a website and a petition to keep her mother in the U.S., said she thought working in Washington would let her help all undocumented immigrants, including her mother. But she found it harder than she imagined.

“Congress is a very hard place to be,” Andiola said. “It is a place where politics are more important than people.”

But Vaughan said being in Washington helped Andiola learn how the system works.

“When activists are able to get media coverage on a specific case, ICE usually caves and gives green cards,” Vaughan said.

Activists are pushing hard for a House vote on the comprehensive reform bill passed by the Senate in June. But Speaker John Boehner has said repeatedly that, while he wants reform, he wants the House to move at its own pace on smaller measures.

Efforts like Andiola’s to keep immigration reform in the conversation are orchestrated, said Tamar Jacoby, president of ImmigrationWorks USA. But she said it is more of a groundswell than a centralized directive.

She said that the demonstrations matter at some level, but when it comes down to it the decision to move forward or not will be an “internal decision” in the House.

Jacoby predicted that a bill will pass the House eventually, even though for many House Republicans it is “like going to the dentist … They know they have to do it, but they just keep putting it off.”

Sinema on Wednesday pledged to Andiola that Congress would pass an immigration reform bill “that solves this dilemma.”

“While I am disappointed to lose Erika as a member of our staff, I understand that she needs to focus 100 percent on her mom’s case,” Sinema said.

For Andiola, her frustration with Congress and the threat of having her mom deported made the decision for her.

“For me it is easier to do this from the outside,” she said.