A number of Democratic members of the House and Senate have deliberately chosen to invite individuals impacted by the Trump administration’s draconian immigration policies as their guests for Tuesday night’s State of the Union address.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s family separation practice, announced over the weekend that he would be accompanied by a mother and daughter who were affected by the policy. Albertina Contreras and her daughter Yakelyn fled an abusive domestic life in Guatemala in search of a better life in the United States. Once they arrived, the pair was separated for two months and held in separate detention facilities. It will be Yakelyn’s 12th birthday the day of the address.
Merkley himself attempted to visit a child detention center in Brownsville, Texas over the summer, but was denied and forced by police to leave the premises. “The intention is to hurt the children, cause the children trauma and discourage people from seeking asylum in the United States of America,” Merkley said in a viral Facebook Live stream during the encounter.
More recently Merkley has called for an FBI investigation into Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to discern whether or not she lied to Congress when said claimed DHS had no policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border. Merkley released a DHS draft memo that shows the administration was considering this policy as early as December 2017.
Two other members of Congress, Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), have chosen to invite formerly undocumented employees of President Donald Trump. Gomez, who previously brought an undocumented student to a past the State of Union address, has chosen Sandra Diaz, a Costa Rican immigrant who was a personal housekeeper to the president at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey from 2010 until 2013.
“It’s no small feat for a migrant from Costa Rica to stand up to a bully and hypocrite in the White House,” Gomez said in a statement. “She is living proof that President Trump couldn’t be more wrong — both morally and factually — when he demonizes those who come to America seeking a better life.”
Coleman has chosen Victorina Morales, another former Bedminster employee who was hired by the Trump Organization despite faulty paperwork. The two women said they were not the only undocumented workers at Trump’s Bedminster property, and that supervisors went out of their way to protect them from being fired. Trump previously stated that his businesses use E-Verify, a filing system to ensure that only those legally allowed to work in the United States are hired.
Both women said they faced humiliation from their supervisors at work for their intelligence and immigration status, and could no longer keep silent.
“We are tired of the abuse, the insults, the way [Trump] talks about us when he knows that we are here helping him make money,” Morales told The New York Times. “We sweat it out to attend to his every need and have to put up with his humiliation.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), a Congresswoman of Taiwanese descent, has chosen the first ever Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient to be awarded the Rhodes Scholarship as her guest for the State of the Union. Jin Park, one of Meng’s constituents, is concerned that he will be unable to re-enter if he leaves the country for his scholarship.
In 2017 Trump ended the DACA program, upending the lives of nearly 800,000 immigrant children like Park who have spent the majority of their lives in the United States.
“It is shameful that Jin may have to abandon this coveted opportunity for a Rhodes Scholarship, an opportunity that he worked tirelessly to achieve,” Meng said in a statement. “I’m to proud stand in solidarity with him and I will continue to fight against the divisive policies that have been hallmark of the President’s administration.”
Since taking office, Trump has also eliminated Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for thousands of immigrants from countries ravaged by natural disasters or disease. In March, he struck down Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) protections for Liberians, affecting 4,000 individuals who have lived in the United States for more than 25 years. One of those 4,000 people, a woman named Linda Clark, will be in attendance with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) Tuesday night, herself the first refugee member of Congress.
“Linda is exactly the type of American success story we should celebrate — someone who came to this country seeking a better life, played by the rules, and built a life for herself,” Omar said Monday, noting Clark and others were victims of Trump’s hatred for “what he calls ‘shithole countries’ like Liberia and Haiti.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) has chosen to use her State of the Union guest to bring attention to the impact of Trump’s Muslim ban. Lofgren chose Shaima Swileh, a Yemeni national who was unable to visit her dying son due to Yemen’s place on the majority-Muslim list of countries prohibited from entering the United States. After public pressure, Swileh was granted a waiver to visit her 2-year-old son, a U.S. citizen. He died shortly after her arrival.
Other members of Congress have invited activists — some of whom are immigrants — as their State of the Union guests. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), for example, is bringing Ana Maria Archila, the woman who confronted former Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) in an elevator last year over his support for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Archila, who moved to the United States from Colombia at age 17, has also spoken out against Trump’s racist immigration policies.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL), chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ Women’s Task Force, has said she will bring Michelle Garcia, a constituent and women’s health advocate, on Tuesday night to underscore the need to protect Americans with pre-existing conditions.
This piece has been updated to include information about Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s guest, Shaima Swileh.