(Getty/Win McNamee)

Guests invited by lawmakers to State of the Union highlight party divide over immigration reform

Republicans invited border patrol agents, while Democrats will be joined by undocumented immigrants and refugees


Shira Tarlo
February 6, 2019 1:20AM (UTC)

President Donald Trump is set to deliver his second State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. While the president is slated to speak to a message themed around "choosing greatness" and to detail a "policy agenda both parties can rally behind," a split between Republicans and Democrats on the divisive issue of immigration is expected to take center stage down to the types of guests invited by the lawmakers.

Trump and first lady Melania Trump will be joined by 13 guests for the annual State of the Union address. Their guests include the family of a couple who was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant; a recovering opioid addict; a synagogue member who survived a mass shooting in Pittsburgh; a police officer; a woman who was granted clemency by the president; and a sixth-grader who has been bullied because he shares the commander-in-chief's surname.

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The Republicans, for their part, invited law enforcement officials who work on or near the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as family members of those who have been killed by illegal immigrants. Rep. Andy Briggs (R-Ariz.) will bring border patrol agent Art Del Cueto, while Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) will be accompanied by Manny Padilla, the former sector chief for the Border Patrol Rio Grande Valley and current director of the Border Patrol's Joint Task Force-West. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Tim Burchett (R-Tenn.) will be joined by the parents of a 22-year-old Tennessee man killed in a car crash in which an illegal immigrant was charged. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) will bring conservative video blogger and social media personality Lynette "Diamond" Hardaway, who has previously advocated for a demilitarized zone along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Democrats, on the other hand, invited refugees, DACA recipients and undocumented workers. Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.) will be accompanied by Sandra Diaz, an immigrant from Costa Rica who worked as an undocumented housekeeper for Trump between 2010 and 2013. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a former refugee from Somalia, has invited Linda Clark, a Minnesota resident and Liberian immigrant facing possible deportation. Rep. Adriano Espaillat (N.Y.) will bring Yeni Gonzalez Garcia, a Guatemalan immigrant who was separated from her three children at the Arizona border last year, while Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) will be joined by Jin Park, a DACA recipient and the first undocumented immigrant in the U.S. to receive a Rhodes Scholarship. Victoria Morales, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala who worked at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, will be the guest of Rep. Bonnie watson Coleman (D-N.J.).

Trump is expected to use his speech to attempt to rally support for his long-promised $5.7 billion "wall" along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sparring over the president's proposed border wall led to a record 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government over Congress' inability to pass a spending package that included the funds the commander-in-chief has claimed is necessary to build the wall along the southern border. Trump has threatened to declare a national emergency to fund the wall if Democrats do not budge — and he said last week there's a "good chance" he could use his executive powers to declare a national emergency at the southern border and unlock Defense Department funding for a wall on Tuesday night. Trump has used fear as a motivator to pitch his border wall, arguing that it was necessary to curb illegal immigration, drug trafficking and crime.

Trump and congressional Democrats reached a deal last month to reopen the government for three week until Feb. 15, while negotiations continue over border security and a spending package that includes the billions he has requested to construct the wall he promised Mexico would pay for while on the 2016 campaign trail. That deadline is coming up.

Tuesday night's address is likely to symbolize a new reality for the president, as it will be his first State of the Union address since the 2018 midterm election cycle, in which the Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives. The last time Trump gave a State of the Union speech, only Republicans (Vice President Mike Pence and former House Speaker Paul Ryan) were standing behind him. This time around, recently-elected House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who has clashed with the president on border security, will stand behind him and highlight the fact that Trump must now deal with a Democratic-controlled House.


Shira Tarlo

Contact Shira Tarlo at shira.tarlo@salon.com. Follow @shiratarlo.

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