A Dream Deferred for Young Immigrants at State of the Union

Guests at speech taken aback by hard-line talk from president

President Donald Trump arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Donald Trump arrives in the House chamber to deliver his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted January 30, 2018 at 11:54pm

Dozens of young immigrants sat in the pews as President Donald Trump gave his State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Many of the young immigrants, known as Dreamers, were invited by lawmakers to attend the speech and remind the president that their lives are stuck in limbo.

In September, the president announced he would terminate the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, starting in March.

Denea Joseph, who immigrated to the United States when she was seven from Belize, was invited to attend the speech by California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris.

Joseph, 23, said she wants to attend law school and use her degree to craft and enact legislative policies, but for now her dreams are placed on hold until Congress can pass a legislative solution that would protect Dreamers like herself from deportation.

“Congress needs to pass a DREAM Act that protects the diversity visa and family-based immigration system,” she said. “Most importantly, they need to pass a DREAM Act that doesn’t lead to the building of a wall that violates a basic human right, the right to immigrate,” she said before Trump’s address. The president reiterated his position Tuesday night to nix the diversity visa lottery program and revise extended family migration, as well as build a Southern border wall, in exchange for citizenship for DACA-eligible immigrants.

Jung Bin Cho attended the State of the Union by invitation of California Democratic Rep. Judy Chu. He told Roll Call he wants Congress to find a DACA solution, but he is afraid that would come at a cost.

“The White House has already proposed offering a pathway to citizenship in exchange for a border wall funding and enforcement,” he said. “But what has become clear is that the Trump administration’s agenda is not about securing the border or the rule of law. It is about preventing people from non-European countries to come to this country and making America white again; they are also attacking the legal immigration system and the family-based immigration system.”

Cho, 23, came to the United States from South Korea. He says it is important to share his story to show others that Dreamers are not only from Hispanic countries.

He told Roll Call there needs to be more Asian-Americans and Pacific Islander representation so that “people can become advocates for themselves” and use their stories to influence immigration policies.

As of September 2017, at least 12,200 DACA recipients are from Asian-Pacific countries such as South Korea, Thailand, Philippines, China and Vietnam, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

To highlight his immigration policies, Trump invited guests who have suffered the repercussions of gang violence to his State of the Union address.

For instance, he invited the parents of Nisa Mickens and Kayla Cuevas, who were killed by MS-13 gang members.

Arisaid Gonzalez Porras, a guest of Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, said she was shocked when Trump began to generalize that “all immigrant communities are all gang members and criminals.”

“Not the whole immigrant community can be generalized in that category. There are really decent human beings and we’re here as an image of what we do in America,” she said.

“I mean, we work; we own houses we try to do everything the right way. So when he was trying to generalize us into this category of just criminals and violents, I definitely did not agree,” she said.

“His speech was nothing new. It was everything he’s been saying; he re-emphasized his plan but I don’t agree with it,” she added.

Nicolle Uria,17, who lives in Virginia, attended the speech as a guest of Virginia Democratic Rep. Gerald E. Connolly. Before the speech, she said she wanted to send the president a message.

“If I do get a chance to talk with him, I want to remind him that he is a father, and if he wants the best for his kids, why wouldn’t he want the best for us, we want a future too,” she said.

After the event, Uria said she was upset by Trump’s address.

“I’m very upset at the fact that he described all these Dreamers as gang members,” she said. “This is not who we are, and I really thought he was going to provide a solution for us. But honestly, all I can say is that I’m disappointed.”