Last week, Andrea Huerfano was looking for some friends interested in a road trip to Tallahassee. This week, she'll be in the state capital, campaigning for the DREAM Act, telling the story of how her family came to this country seeking asylum. A piece of federal legislation that has been debated for nearly seven years, the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act is essentially Andrea's last hope of remaining in this country with her mother and younger brother.
In October, Andrea, 23, ran a red light on Sample Road in Pompano Beach -- she was driving home from a friend's house. In December, when she went to pay the traffic ticket, she was detained by ICE, handcuffed, and sent to the Broward Transitional Center, the rather unpleasant station where ICE sends the men and women that the U.S. government will soon deport.
After she spent a week at the facility, her lawyer managed a six-month stay in the case. Which means Andrea has six months (starting in December -- four months left) to get her affairs in order and say goodbye to her friends and family. If she's sent to her native Colombia, it could be ten years before she's allowed back in the United States, where her mother and younger brother are legal residents.
According to her attorney, Andrea's only hope is a personal bill from the U.S. Congress (like Terri Schiavo), which is highly unlikely, or the passage of the DREAM Act, which ultimately would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to obtain U.S. citizenship after attending college or serving in the U.S. military.
Andrea, an FSU grad who has worked on a voter registration campaign in Ohio before the 2008 election, needed friends willing to drive up the state with her because she hasn't legally been allowed to drive since her arrest in December. Andrea told the Juice last week that she thought it would "also be a way to spend time with friends and have a little bit of fun" during what has been "a very hard time for everyone."
She says she tries not to think about what might happen to her in a few months. She knows nobody in Colombia. Fearing for the safety of his family, Andrea's father, an accountant, moved the family to Florida when Andrea was 14. While applying for legal status, he passed away in 2005.
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Now she's telling her story -- living without legal status for nearly half a decade, seeing friends unable to go to graduate school because they didn't have a Social Security number, being arrested unexpectedly, spending a week in jail, waiting to be shipped away from everything she knows.
One morning, she woke up in her own bed in Coral Springs, knowing she had several things to do that day -- among them, pay a traffic ticket. The next morning, she woke up wearing gray sweatpants, on a top bunk in a room filled with strangers, in a federal holding facility. There, she says, she saw several women her age and younger. "They were in a much worse situation. These women had children. Some of them were just crying, begging to know where their kids were."
She told me that for most of her life: "I've been very passive. I was never the one taking the stand. I was just in the room or standing in the back." A very religious woman, Andrea says she thinks this is a challenge from God.
"This is my time to stand up for myself," she said. "And for everyone else in my situation who might not have a voice. I can be the voice for them."