By Bartholomew D Sullivan
WASHINGTON — In the audience facing President Trump on Tuesday night during his first speech to a joint session of Congress will be at least four DREAMers, undocumented immigrants whose futures he will be deciding soon.
The four, all guests of Democratic members of Congress, were brought to the U.S. illegally as children but have been allowed to stay under an Obama administration program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
Martha Zavala Perez didn’t learn she was an undocumented immigrant until she began applying to community college at 17. Her Mexican parents had brought her to the United States when she was 1.
Zavala Perez, 25, who teaches public speaking at California State University Channel Islands after receiving a bachelor’s degree there and a master’s in intercultural communications at Pepperdine University, will be the guest of California Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley. Her office intervened when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement let the renewal of Zavala Perez’s DACA status lapse last autumn.
Without a work permit, she lost her job at the Channel Islands campus, she said, and began washing dishes for cash in the underground economy until the renewal came through. Brownley’s office contacted her and, once the implications of her travel to Washington became clear, she briefly wondered if she could make the trip.
“Once I realized what the invitation was, I was struck with fear,” she said. “Can I get on an airplane?”
Despite news that some DACA recipients have been detained in recent immigration raids, such as the case of Daniel Ramirez Medina in Seattle, she was scheduled to hop a flight Tuesday morning bound for D.C.
“I’m walking into a federal building where the leader of my country hates me,” she said. “After the initial shock, I realized I had a duty. I may be a DREAMer, but I am a very privileged DREAMer. I have a master’s degree. I have a duty to speak up. I have a duty to put my fears aside.”
Trump has expressed sympathy for DREAMers but has not explicitly said DACA will continue.
Asked what she’d like to say to the president if she had the chance, she said: “If I could sit in front of the president for even five seconds, I’d say ‘Remember that you’re dealing with people’s lives. … From a personal standpoint, someone is passing judgment on me without knowing me. My parents want for me what you want for your children.”
DACA was instituted by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 and now protects an estimated 740,000 people with renewable, two-year work permits and deferred action on deportation, allowing many to work legally and go to school openly.
Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., initially invited a 23-year-old DACA-protected Santa Barbara resident but she backed out last week “not feeling comfortable with bringing public attention to herself,” said his spokeswoman, Tess Whittlesey.
Now, Izeah Garcia, a U.S. citizen from Fullerton attending U.C.Santa Barbara will be Carbajal’s guest in the gallery for the speech.
“I’m a fourth-year history of public policy major, a first-generation college student and the son of Mexican immigrants,” said Garcia in a statement released by Carbajal’s office. “My success is due to my parent’s struggle.
“My family is fearful of the anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment elevated by Trump’s statements. My friends on campus, especially those protected by DACA, are living in fear of future executive actions.”
California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris’ guest is Yuriana Aguilar, who arrived in Fresno before kindergarten. She is a DACA-protected biomedical researcher believed to be the first with that status to earn a Ph.D. She works as an instructor at the Rush Medical College’s Department of Physiology and Biophysics in Chicago.
“For me there are certainly fears,” she said in a statement posted on Harris’ Facebook page. “I fear that I’ll be in the flea market one day (when) they will be rounding people up for deportations. I fear that no one is going to care that I have a Ph.D. or that I have lived in the United States for as long as I can remember.”
In an interview in Harris’ office Tuesday evening, Aguilar said of walking in to the U.S. Capitol, “I feel like I’m going into la cueva del lobo, which means the cave of the wolf…,but I came here to put a face to undocumented students, undocumented immigrants. We’re professionals. We’re in the work force.”
She said if DACA is taken away, she now has more to lose with a degree, a job, a two-year-old daughter and an undocumented husband.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Tuesday noted that California Democratic Reps. Nannette Barragan and Lou Correa will have DACA-covered guests Tuesday night, while Arizona Democratic Reps. Ruben Gallego and Raul Grijalva will host the U.S. citizen children of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos, a Phoenix woman recently deported to Mexico.