President Donald Trump won’t be the only person making a political statement at the Joint Session on Congress on Tuesday night. A growing number of Democratic lawmakers will bring guests to the event whose lives have become chaotic thanks to the president’s immigration policies.
Since he took office, Trump has kept his promise to make life difficult for immigrants, refugees, and Muslims. He has authorized executive orders to stop refugee resettlement from Syria, prevent people in seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, and expand the kinds of criminal offenses punishable by deportation. Though he has yet to make good on a campaign promise to take away the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative, which provides temporary work authorization for some undocumented immigrants, some Republicans have kept up the pressure on the hopes that he will roll back that policy.
On Tuesday night, Trump will see several people in the audience who have a personal stake in the harsh policies he’s pioneered.
Among the Democrats’ invited guests are an undocumented immigrant brought to the country as a child who now has a PhD; a Syrian family who have been resettled in Texas; the American-born daughter of Palestinian refugees who works to represent lawful immigrants entering from the seven countries affected by the so-called “Muslim ban;” an undocumented medical student; and two U.S. citizen children whose mother was deported in a nationwide immigration raid after Trump took office.
Other lawmakers are bringing guests who received health care under the 2010 Affordable Care Act and could lose their lives if the law is repealed.
Sara Yarjani, a 35-year-old Iranian graduate student, is one of the invited guests and will sit next to Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). Yarjani was detained at Los Angeles International Airport for 23 hours on the day that Trump authorized his executive order. She was deported to Vienna, Austria where she had been visiting family. Born in Austria but with Iranian citizenship, Yarjani had a student visa to the United States to complete her master’s degree. She was only allowed to come back into the United States after a judge suspended Trump’s order.
“Sara is the face of Muslims, immigrants, and refugees hurt by Trump’s ‘Muslim ban,’” Chu told ThinkProgress in a phone interview. “She was detained for no reason other than that she was an Iranian citizen… She’s proud of her Iranian heritage, and being of Iranian heritage doesn’t mean that she should be banned from this country.”
Trump has said that he would sign a revised Muslim ban that withstands court scrutiny, a promise that concerns Chu, whose district includes CalTech and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). At least one U.S. citizen JPL employee was detained in Houston by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency and ordered to turn over his NASA-issued phone earlier this month.
“We have many people from around the world that work here and companies like JPL are concerned about what will happen if this travel ban continues,” Chu said. “It would hurt their businesses and hurt the work they’re trying to do.”
“I believe that the Muslim travel ban is very dangerous and it is truly un-American and it hurts people who have played by the rules,” Chu added.
Another guest, Fidaa Elaydi, a 28-year-old immigration attorney in Chicago, Illinois, will sit beside Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL). As a “visibly Muslim woman” who wears a hijab, Elaydi wants Trump to understand that she is not the scary terrorist that he has made Muslims out to be. Rather, she will continue to defend the U.S. Constitution for as long as he keeps trying to restrict entry to immigrants. She was one of many attorneys who rushed to Chicago O’Hare airport to be on the front lines of the volunteer effort to support people affected by the Muslim ban in late January when Trump issued his executive order.
Elaydi, the U.S.-born daughter of Palestinian refugees, was shaped by the experiences that her parents went through, having been born and raised in refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. As a result of their hard work which provided her the comforts of an American childhood, she said that she uses her privilege to help people in more vulnerable positions.
“As an attorney, I had to give an oath to defend the Constitution against enemies domestic and abroad, and right now it feels like the greatest enemy is him,” Elaydi told ThinkProgress. “I take the promise that I made very seriously and I aim to defend the Constitution against his unlawful policies.”
Muslims like Elaydi have reason to worry about Trump’s lack of sympathy for their religion. The president has continued to be silent over the recent Islamophobic attack in Kansas. He previously said that Muslims should do a better job of reporting each other and has not ruled out support for a so-called Muslim registry.
“My parents didn’t leave a refugee camp so that I would be forced back into it 40 years later,” Elaydi said.
Still, despite being confronted by guests who represent the best and the brightest of what Trump has called “the good ones,” the president will likely not budge on his policies. The president’s guests will include family members of three people killed by undocumented immigrants.