With moans, sighs and quietly tense moments, San Diego “dreamers” listened with growing frustration Tuesday night as President Donald Trump delivered a State of the Union address reiterating his recently proposed framework for immigration legislation.
Nine young unauthorized immigrants who are currently protected from deportation through an Obama-era program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, hoped that Trump’s speech might provide answers to a question that’s been on their minds since Sept. 5 when he ended the program — what would happen to them now.
They said they were disgusted with Trump’s rhetoric which continued to emphasize a narrative of immigrants as criminals.
“They have always painted us as criminals when we contribute so much,” said Luis Tinoco, a 35-year-old DACA recipient from Mexico who owns an auto mechanic shop. “We’re all here. We’re educated. We come from families with moral characters.”
“What we’re asking for is not much,” said Pedro Aguilar, a 28-year old DACA recipient from Mexico who works as a site planner. “I think by demonizing us, he really does a disservice to America. We’re here to improve the lives of everyone.”
Ali Torabi, a 27-year-old DACA recipient from Iran who hosted the watch party at his home in Torrey Highlands, was angry that Trump didn’t acknowledge the DACA recipients who were there as guests of many members of Congress. Karen Bahena, who works as a research coordinator at UC San Diego, attended with Rep. Scott Peters.
“Not once did he point out to them. Not once were they put on camera. Not once were they acknowledged in any capacity,” Torabi said.
Trump’s statement that “Americans are dreamers, too,” was met with particularly harsh objections.
“Oh no he did not!” yelled Fernanda Madrigal, a 29-year-old DACA recipient from Costa Rica.
“That’s like saying all lives matter,” said Dulce Garcia, a DACA recipient and immigration attorney.
“Stop taking our message!” Madrigal added.
The group was appalled with what they saw as Trump and other politicians using painful stories from particular families — notably two families whose daughters were killed by MS-13 gang members — as optics for their agenda.
“I still can’t get over it,” Torabi said. “You parade people’s hardships for your own political advantages.”
They rejected Trump’s proposal that would give them a path to citizenship in 12 years while getting rid of a diversity visa program, restricting family-sponsored green cards and ramping up border enforcement.
“My mom’s dreams count just as much as mine,” Garcia said. She sees any increase in border enforcement as a threat to her family.
They pointed out that some people had supported Trump because of opposition to people who immigrate without authorization but that the proposal makes big changes to legal immigration as well.
“Dreamers are like the canary in the coal mine,” said Francisco Peralta, a 31-year-old DACA recipient from Mexico. “When we go belly up, they should take that as a warning that there’s danger coming their way because they could be next.”
Aguilar said that he’s the only one in his family who is unauthorized to be in the U.S.
“If concessions are to be made, my family is not hurt at all, yet I stand here with you guys because I don’t want anyone else’s families to suffer,” Aguilar said.
They snapped and applauded when Rep. Joe Kennedy gave his rebuttal, particularly when he listed groups who do not feel protected under the Trump adminstration.
Some appreciated his gesture to address DACA recipients directly in Spanish, and others criticized it because not all DACA recipients are from Spanish-speaking countries.
The group ended the evening by resolving to fight harder for a bill that would protect them without adding any additional enforcement measures.
They planned to hold a public rebuttal to Trump’s State of the Union address on Wednesday at 6 p.m. outside the Federal Building in downtown San Diego.
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