'Dreamer' immigrants get front-row seat to Trump speech

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'Dreamer' immigrants get front-row seat to Trump speech

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — Dozens of immigrants in legal limbo – including a young teacher named America– will have front row seats for President Donald Trump's State of the Union address Tuesday, getting a close-up look at US history despite their own precarious status.

Trump's primetime address will be delivered in the hallowed House of Representatives chamber, where immigrants from Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and South Korea will join US lawmakers, top administration and military officials, Supreme Court justices and foreign ambassadors.

The speech– expected to touch on the divisive issue of immigration– comes as some 700,000 immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children, the so-called "Dreamers," risk losing their protected status while the White House and Congress struggle to reach a deal on their fate.

For those supporting the Dreamers, the goal of their presence is simple: "Make sure the president is seeing the faces of young people who are contributing to our community every day," said Michelle Lujan Grisham, chair of the largely Democratic Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

For America Moreno Jimenez, who immigrated from Mexico at age two with her parents and is now a public school teacher in North Carolina, it will be a very personal moment.

"My name itself is a devotion to how much my family loves this country, and it's sad to see that nothing has been done yet," 24-year-old America told AFP, as congressman David Price, who invited her to the speech, stood nearby.

"I want to hear a decisive statement, one way or the other," she said of Trump's speech.

"Even if there is a negative outcome to what he has to say, at least we can take that and plan for our futures."

Thousands of Dreamers like America will be under threat of deportation if Congress does not legislate a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump scrapped last September and which expires on March 5.

In a pointed message to the Republican president to break the immigration stalemate, more than two dozen Democratic lawmakers invited Dreamers to his speech.

They "make America more American," top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi told Dreamers in the US Capitol. "You are the pride of America (and) you are here to stay."

Not if congressman Paul Gosar has a say in it.

The Republican from Arizona contacted US Capitol Police and Attorney General Jeff Sessions urging them to check identifications of those at the speech and arrest "any illegal aliens."

"Of all the places where the Rule of Law needs to be enforced, it should be in the hallowed halls of Congress," Gosar tweeted.

The move infuriated Democratic lawmakers.

"I would say to the congressman, you try it," boomed Texas congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee.

- No vitriol -
Despite the tension, Dreamer Denea Joseph, a 23-year-old UCLA graduate who immigrated from Belize at age seven, said she did not anticipate protests inside the chamber.

Instead she hoped Trump would soothe the concerns of so many immigrants who will be watching.

"I would hope that the president doesn't utilize the same vitriol that he's used pertaining to immigrant communities in the past," Joseph told AFP.

She said she hopes Democrats stick to their demands to pass a clean Dream Act that provides a pathway to citizenship for her and other immigrants, and not agree to the White House's latest plan.

Trump's proposal would include about 1.8 million of the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently in the country, while also providing funding for his border wall and severely curtailing legal immigration.

Dreamers who gathered before the speech, some of whom snapped selfies in front of American flags, wore yellow butterfly stickers, a nod to the insect's cross-border migratory patterns.

Most have DACA permits, distributed under Barack Obama's administration, that provide legal residency and work authorisation.

But for many, the clock is ticking. Bolivian-born high schooler Nicolle Uria, 17, said she feels just as American as anyone else, but her DACA status lasts only through September.

"Dreamers like me wake up every morning knowing we have an expiration date on our futures," she said.

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