When President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, many young immigrants who depend on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be staring back at him.
Gabriela Hernandez, 19, of Largo, Maryland, is one of them. Hernandez will attend the State of the Union as a guest of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and is one of 25 DREAMers that Democratic and Republican lawmakers have invited to Trump’s speech to make a point about the importance of getting a permanent DACA solution for these young people, many of them students and entrepreneurs.
Originally from El Salvador, Hernandez came to the US at age 4 with her family. She calls her home country “beautiful” but says it is still wracked by gang violence and too dangerous to go back.
“It is still really bad,” she said.
Hernandez says her Spanish isn’t as good as her English and worries that she would have to relearn Spanish if she ever had to go back to El Salvador. “I know the [United States] Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. “I don’t even know the Salvadoran national anthem. I know I’m not considered an American, even though I consider myself an American.”
Now a student at Prince George’s Community College, Hernandez is hoping to transfer to a four-year college like Howard University and pursue a degree in social work. But all of her dreams and goals hinge on the future of DACA or Congress coming up with another permanent immigration fix. Without DACA and her work permit, Hernandez and thousands of others like her would have to retreat into the shadows, working under the table to make a living.
“I don’t really know what I would be doing; it would probably be something like cleaning houses,” Hernandez said. “I don’t think people could really just go back to their countries — you would lose your job here.”
The fate of the DACA program is one of the biggest pieces of unfinished business Trump faces going into his speech. The future of hundreds of thousands of DREAMers depends on the words — and actions — of a president who has repeatedly talked about their countries of origin with disdain.
Congress is currently scrambling to come up with a fix to give young undocumented immigrants like Hernandez the ability to stay in the United States and have a pathway to citizenship. But their track record hasn’t been promising so far; immigration deals have been struck in Congress, only to be discarded days later.
The clock is ticking until Congress’s next deadline: February 8, after which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised to allow floor debate on an immigration bill if no deal has been reached by then. Hernandez and thousands of her fellow DREAMers are watching — and waiting.
“Honestly, I just want there to be something that provides an actual solution,” Hernandez said. “I just want there to be some type of security.”
Here are the DREAMers attending the State of the Union
Hernandez will be joined by 24 other DACA recipients who will attend Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday as the guests of senators and representatives. Lawmakers estimate this is the largest number of DREAMers ever to attend a State of the Union, which reflects the urgency of the current situation.
Here are the DREAMers who will be attending the State of the Union, listed by their home states.
Arisaid Gonzalez Porras of Mesa — guest of Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ). Porras is a student at Georgetown and is from Mexico. She came to the US in 2000.
- Denea Joseph of Los Angeles — guest of Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). Joseph is a student at the University of California Los Angeles and is originally from the Central American country Belize. She came to the US at age 7.
- Melody Klingenfuss of Los Angeles — guest of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Klingenfuss is a statewide youth organizer for CHIRLA’s California Dream Network and is originally from Guatemala City, Guatemala. She came to the US at age 9.
- Leticia Herrera-Mendez of San Bernardino — guest of Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA). Herrera-Mendez is a student at California State University San Bernardino and originally from Oaxaca, Mexico. She came to the US at age 8.
- Leslie Martinez of Irvine — guest of Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA). Martinez is a student at the University of California Irvine. She came to the US at age 2.
- Itayu Torres of Pasadena — guest of Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA). Torres is a student at Pasadena City College and is originally from Mexico. She came to the US as a 6-month-old baby.
- Karen Bahena of San Diego — guest of Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA). Bahena is a research coordinator at San Diego State University and is originally from Morelos, Mexico. She came to the US at age 8.
- Anarely of Fort Collins — guest of Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO). Anarely is a student at Colorado State University and is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. She came to the US as a young child.
- Adrian Escarate of Miami — guest of Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL). Escarate is a professional tennis coach in Miami and is originally from Santiago, Chile. He came to the US at age 3.
- Anna Campa Castillo of Bolingbrook — guest of Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL). Castillo is a student at Joliet Junior College.
- Cesar Montelongo of Chicago — guest of Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL). Montelongo is studying medicine at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine and is originally from Mexico. He came to the US at age 10.
- Christian Castaneda of Portland — guest of Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME). Castaneda is a tax representative for a company in Portland and is originally from El Salvador. He came to the US at age 4.
- Gabriela Hernandez of Largo — guest of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD). Hernandez is a student at Prince George’s Community College and is originally from El Salvador. She came to the US at age 4.
- Esder Chong of Newark — guest of Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ). Chong is a student at Rutgers University and is originally from South Korea. She came to the US at age 6.
- Elizabeth Vilchis of Ridgefield — guest of Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). Vilchis is the founder of latinoTech and is originally from Mexico. She came to the US at age 7.
- Dalia Medina of Albuquerque — guest of Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM). Medina is a clinical social worker and is originally from Mexico. She came to the US at age 9.
- Ivonne Orozco-Acosta of Albuquerque — guest of Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM). Orozco-Acosta is a teacher in Albuquerque and is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico. She came to the US at age 12.
- Nelson Melgar of Long Island — guest of Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY). Melgar is a co-founder of the North Shore Hispanic Civic Association and is originally from Honduras. He came to the US as a young teenager.
- America Moreno Jimenez of Raleigh — guest of Rep. David Price (D-NC). Jimenez is a high school teacher in Raleigh. She came to the US at age 2.
- Esli Becerra of Portland — guest of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). Becerra is a visual effects artists and is originally from Mexico. He came to the US at 8 months old.
- Leonardo Reyes of Salem — guest of Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR). Reyes is a bilingual eligibility specialist working for the state of Oregon and is originally from Mexico.
- Aldo Solano of Woodburn — guest of Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). Solano is a policy director at the Oregon Latino Health Coalition and is originally from Colima, Mexico. He came to the US at age 6.
- Luis Alcauter of Washington, DC — guest of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Alcauter previously worked on Sanders’ campaign and is the creative director for Solidarity Strategies, and is originally from Mexico. He came to the US at age 13.
- Jung Bin Cho of Springfield — guest of Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA). Cho is an immigrant rights fellow at the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium and is originally from South Korea. He came to the US at age 7.
- Nicolle Uria — guest of Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). Uria is a high school student and is originally from La Paz, Bolivia. She came to the US at age 1.
Trump is expected to lay out his vision for a DACA fix, which is different from Congress’s vision
Trump will lay out his vision for an immigration fix on Tuesday, in an attempt to garner some support for the plan among lawmakers.
But so far that support is looking unlikely, as the White House has been unable to come to an agreement with both Democrats and moderate Republicans on what an immigration deal should look like. The White House was supposed to release its framework for a deal today, but the details leaked on Thursday instead.
Those reports say that the administration is willing to allow 1.8 million unauthorized immigrants who came to the country as children to become legal residents and ultimately apply for US citizenship — including the 690,000 beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, as well as others who would have been eligible for DACA but did not apply — in exchange for a $25 billion fund for its wall on the US/Mexico border; reallocating slots currently given to immigrants via the diversity visa lottery on the basis of “merit”; and preventing people from sponsoring their parents, adult children, or siblings to immigrate to the US.
Democrats and moderate Republicans were on board with wall funding as soon as last week, but Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are vocally opposing the Trump administration’s attempt to curtail legal immigration programs including the diversity visa lottery and sponsoring their families.
“This plan flies in the face of what most Americans believe,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted on Friday.
While @realDonaldTrump finally acknowledged that the Dreamers should be allowed to stay here and become citizens, he uses them as a tool to tear apart our legal immigration system and adopt the wish list that anti-immigration hardliners have advocated for for years. 2/2— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 26, 2018
Even if the Senate can come to an agreement, such a bill faces a tough road in the House, where Speaker Paul Ryan has promised he will only allow a vote on a bill that has the support of the majority of the majority party. So the odds of an immigration deal making its way through Congress and to the president’s desk look slim.