Politics & Government

Guests for Trump’s first Congressional address represent competing visions of America

Democrats bring guests affected by DACA, immigration ban to joint address

Congressional Democrats chose guests who had been or could be affected by Trump's policies on immigration.
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Congressional Democrats chose guests who had been or could be affected by Trump's policies on immigration.

When President Donald Trump addresses a joint session of Congress for the first time Tuesday night, he is expected to set out a wide-ranging agenda for his first term in office, including stronger immigration enforcement. But before he takes the podium, his choice of guests — and the guests of the congressional Democrats — will already have sent a message about the competing visions of America their parties are staking out.

Half of President Donald Trump’s six guests are family members of murder victims in cases where police have charged undocumented immigrants for the crimes. Several of the guests invited by Democratic representatives include Muslim-Americans, immigrants and the undocumented students commonly referred to as Dreamers.

Trump’s guests include Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, whose husbands were sheriff’s deputies killed in the Sacramento area in 2014. The suspect, who is awaiting trial, is an undocumented immigrant who had been deported twice. As a candidate, Trump supported a bill named for Michael Davis and Danny Oliver that would “enhance cooperation with state and local authorities to ensure that criminal immigrants and terrorists are swiftly, really swiftly identified and removed," according to CNN.

President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night. The president promised to deliver a message of unity during the address.

His invitees also include Jamiel Shaw, Sr., whose 17-year-old son Jamiel Jr. was shot and killed in 2008 by an undocumented immigrant who was convicted. Shaw, a longtime Trump supporter, spoke at the Republican National Convention last year.

House Democrats released a statement Monday highlighting several of the guests their members plan to bring with them to Tuesday night’s address, including three recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which grants protection from deportation and work permit eligibility to undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children.

Those invited by House Democrats include several immigrants and Muslim-Americans. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine announced she would be bringing Banah Al-Hanfy, a 20-year-old Iraqi immigrant whose father was an interpreter for U.S. forces. Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan said in a separate statement he will attend with Mona Hanna-Attisha, an immigrant born to Iraqi parents who he said was “instrumental in uncovering elevated lead levels in Flint children.”

Rep. Judy Chu of California invited Sara Yarjani, an Iranian graduate student who was detained at the Los Angeles International Airport for nearly 23 hours under Trump’s brief travel ban halting immigration from several predominantly Muslim countries. Rep. Marc Veasey of Texas said Monday he is bringing a family of Syrian refugees to the nation’s capital for the speech.

“Participating Democratic members are hoping that their diverse body of guests will remind President Trump that he is not the arbiter of patriotism,” spokesman Todd Adams said in a statement.

Trump’s other three guests include late Justice Antonin Scalia’s widow Maureen; college student Megan Crowley, whose father founded a pharmaceutical company to treat her genetic disorder, and Denisha Merriweather, a supporter of tax credit scholarships and first-generation college graduate.

Using guests to make a political point is common practice for such presidential speeches. In former President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union in January 2016, House Speaker Paul Ryan invited two nuns from the Catholic order called The Little Sisters of the Poor, which was involved in a Supreme Court case about the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Then-First Lady Michelle Obama invited guests including Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the 2015 Supreme Court case that legalized same-sex marriage.

The Obamas also made a political point with omissions from their guest list: During Obama’s last State of the Union, a seat in the First Lady’s box remained empty, to symbolize those killed by gun violence.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said two sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed in 2014 in downtown Sacramento. The shootings occurred in the Sacramento area.

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