Several Democratic lawmakers will bring immigrants to Tuesday night’s State of the Union address as a way to symbolically criticize President Donald Trump on the various ways his harsh immigration policies would target people with longstanding ties to their communities.
Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) will be attending with 23-year-old Jung Bin Cho, a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) beneficiary living in northern Virginia who came to the country as a seven-year-old from South Korea. Because of DACA, Cho received temporary work authorization and deportation relief, and is now an immigrant rights fellow at the grassroots immigrant rights group National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC).
“[My parents] came to Virginia — they wanted their kids to have the best education possible and to achieve the American dream,” Cho said in a phone interview. “Since America had a great reputation for the best schools in the world, my parents wanted me to go to a four-year college and become successful in America.”
Cho said it would be an honor to sit next to the congresswoman because she “showed leadership” last month as she staged a protest with other Democratic lawmakers in Washington, D.C. on behalf of young immigrants like Cho known as “Dreamers.” Capitol Police arrested Chu along with 181 other people at the protest. She received charges of “crowding, obstructing, or incommoding.” The congresswoman also paid a fine.
“I was very grateful for that — that she was willing to be a true champion of our undocumented and Dreamer [population],” Cho said.
“To rip them up by their roots and to deport them is beyond imagination.”
“These Dreamers have set roots here,” Rep. Chu told ThinkProgress in a phone interview last week. “They’ve gone to college. Many of them have their jobs. They’ve contributed to their country. To rip them up by their roots and to deport them is beyond imagination. I wanted to make sure that Donald Trump could see with his own eye the type of person that he is hurting through his policy. In addition to this, I wanted to make sure that Donald Trump and everybody else knows that there are Asian American Pacific Islanders [AAPI] Dreamers.”
Because the vast majority of undocumented immigrants are of Latin American descent, people don’t generally think of Cho when they see Dreamers. Roughly 1.5 million undocumented immigrants are of Asian descent. Of those, 200,000 are South Koreans.
“I wanted to put another face out there that not only Hispanics are impacted, but Asians are impacted — South Korea is one of the next top populations affected besides Hispanics,” Cho said, referring to the roughly 130,000 DACA recipients like himself.
Chu invited Cho to the State of the Union due to the president’s decision in September 2017 to phase out the DACA program and end the renewal process of hundreds of thousands of immigrants whose statuses expire after March 5, 2017. A federal judge has since temporarily reversed course and given current DACA recipients the chance to renew their statuses, but the administration is not required to accept new applications. Cho is among those who have reapplied for a status renewal. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in and allow the White House to end the DACA program.
Chu said Cho is just one of many Dreamers she has met who expressed their fears of being deported back to countries where they do not have any established connections. She said she met another DACA recipient born in Peru to Chinese parents. The family immigrated to the United States, but the parents were deported.
“If DACA ends, can you imagine?,” Chu exclaimed. “He would be deported to Peru, a country that he truly knows nothing about and where he doesn’t speak the language at all.”
Because Dreamers matter dearly to Chu, to a point where she risked arrest, earlier this month she signed onto the Uniting and Securing America (USA) Act, a bipartisan bill that grants DACA recipients the ability to eventually become citizens, eliminates immigration court backlogs, and includes border security technology, barriers, and tools that impede border crossers. The cosponsors include 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats, but the bill has not made it to the House floor.
“Speaker Ryan doesn’t want to put it on the floor and he’s listening to the far right, extreme Tea Party elements of the Republican Caucus,” Chu explained. “They have told him that under no circumstances would they allow it to be put on the floor. And yet it could pass now. We could solve this problem with a standalone bill like the Hurd-Aguilar bill. We are in a crisis situation and that’s why I’m bringing this Dreamer to the State of the Union.”
The Hurd-Aguilar bill could conceivably pass the House floor with support from all 193 Democrats and exactly 25 Republicans. It’s unclear whether the House bill would have a chance, but the White House has already passed over a similar bipartisan bill cosponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) in the Senate.
“The values of America is that we want to keep families together,” Cho said. “We don’t want to separate families and that’s not what America stands for.”
The White House recently released a legislative immigration framework that congressional lawmakers have either called generous or xenophobic. That plan includes the elimination to certain pathways of legal immigration, increased federal immigration agents throughout the United States, and an earned pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, or immigrants who came to the country as children.
On the face of it, the plan is a composite of what polls well with Americans. Americans support Dreamers. Americans also support border security. Yet the Trump framework faces opposition on both sides. Dreamers say the bill amounts to cruelty because they will be saved while their undocumented parents won’t be. Republicans have meanwhile labeled the bill as “amnesty.”
The White House plan and many of the current conversations around immigration only focus on Dreamers, who in fairness, make up a significant part of the undocumented population and are at risk of deportation. But the White House has also made other major cuts to immigration programs that could have significant ripple effects throughout the American economy in years to come.
Since last year, the Trump administration has systemically phased out the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for Haiti, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, leaving about 300,000 people in a similar situation as Dreamers. The TPS program granted work authorization generally in 18-month increments to people fleeing various forms of violence, persecution, war, or natural disasters. These programs have been renewed repeatedly by various presidential administrations since their initial issuance. Like DACA, TPS does not provide any sort of pathway into citizenship, which leaves recipients at the whim of presidents who want to get rid of the program.
More than 250,000 people have been affected by President’s Trump decisions on TPS. That’s why Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) has invited Edenilson Granados, a TPS beneficiary from El Salvador who has been in the United States since 1999, to the State of the Union.
Since coming to the country with TPS, Granados has worked for 18 years at Kettle Cuisine, a producer of wholesale frozen and refrigerated soups that employs about two dozen employees.
“He’s a part of the community and he’s an essential part of the economy,” Moulton told ThinkProgress in a phone interview Monday. “The CEO of the company said he’s an essential worker, a supervisor that he can’t afford to lose.”
Edenilson Granados immigrated to the US when he was 16. He's married with two daughters & a son, and he has worked at a successful business in #MA6 for 18 years – but he's a #TPS holder. The Administration's cancellation of TPS means he faces deportation if Congress doesn't act. pic.twitter.com/MJjKw5Afz3
— TeamMoulton (@teammoulton) January 26, 2018
“And yet President Donald Trump wants to deport him to a country he barely knows, to El Salvador, a place he hasn’t been since he was a kid,” Moulton said. “[Trump] will break up this American family. [Trump] will hurt this business that’s essential to our local economy. [Trump] will tear apart this community all in the name of his ideological immigration policies that’s out of touch with reality and out of touch with our values.”
When the Trump administration cancelled the TPS program for El Salvador in January 2018 — giving Salvadorans until September 9, 2019 to renew their current status one final time — the president threw the lives of roughly 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants into disarray. People like Granados, who have lived in the country for decades and have U.S. citizen children, scrambled to figure out what to do with their jobs and families.
“I love this country. I feel I am part of this country. I’ve lived in this country for more years than El Salvador,” Granados said, according to a press release. “Right now, it’s very tough for us. I look forward to attending the State of the Union, and I hope the Congress and people in power can give us the opportunity to stay more in this country. I hope they can think about it like a father or a mother and make a better decision about giving us the opportunity to keep living the American Dream.”
“I think most Americans know sending all these people to, essentially foreign countries they barely even know, is totally against our values,” Moulton explained. “I think not as many Americans appreciate just how essential this is to our economy so we’ve got to recognize there are so many ways immigrants contribute to our communities and to our country.”
As Moulton referenced, even if Americans don’t know any TPS recipients, they may have eaten a product produced by one. More than 80 percent of TPS holders from El Salvador, Honduras, and Haiti are in the labor force, according to an Immigration Policy Council fact sheet, with TPS workers generally working in the construction and restaurant and food services industries. That’s in part why Kettle Cuisine CEO Liam McClennon grew very concerned when the Trump administration ended TPS for El Salvador, because he knows exactly how invaluable Granados is to his company.
“The recent news about the suspension of the TPS program has really caused a lot of anxiety, both for us as individuals on the human level, but also on a business level,” McClennon said in a video featuring Granados. “We are making a product that relies on an incredible amount of artisan skills. We’ve come over the years to rely enormously on the people of El Salvador who have been here for a very long time and they have grown and developed into a wide variety of highly skilled rolls that matter enormously to our ability to produce a safe, high-quality soup product.”
“When Trump attacks them for wanting to simply have the chance of staying alive by coming to America, he’s hurting our national security.”
Beyond the scope of TPS and DACA expired statuses, Moulton says that some immigration restrictions — particularly policies like the ban that severely restricts travel from several Muslim-majority countries — hurt national security concerns more than they help. Moulton would know. He is a U.S. Marine war veteran who did four tours in Iraq over five years and received two medals of valor. He also opened his home to refugees in 2015 when Republicans debated shutting U.S. borders to on Syrian refugees fleeing violence and war.
“It’s harmful to our national security,” Moulton said. “When [Trump] attacks refugees — like the translators who put their lives on the line not just for their country but for ours — when Trump attacks them for wanting to simply have the chance of staying alive by coming to America, he’s hurting our national security.”
“[Trump] is going to make it much harder for American troops to find allies like that in a fight against terror in the future,” Moulton explained. “It’s going to make it much harder for anybody to trust Americans when we tell them we need them to be intelligence sources and we need them to help in the fight against terror across the globe. So Donald Trump isn’t just doing something that’s against our values, against our proud American history of taking in the oppressed from across the globe. It’s something that’s directly harmful to our troops and to our national security and that’s just another example of Donald Trump is a truly dangerous Commander-in-Chief.”