Several Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program recipients attending the State of the Union Tuesday as guests of House Democrats said they do not want their legal status traded for a border wall.
President Donald Trump tried to end the DACA program, which provides young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children temporary legal status, but federal courts have so far blocked him from doing so. During various times over the past two years, Trump has floated trading statutory protections for DACA recipients — sometimes permanent, other times time temporary — for funding for a southern border wall.
On Tuesday, as Trump may again float such a trade during his State of the Union address, DACA recipients who will be watching from the House gallery say they’re not interested.
“As someone who lives on the border, no,” said Senaida Navar, a DACA recipient who lives in El Paso, Texas. “I refuse to trade my community for a status. … When you start trading people for people, that’s very problematic.”
Navar is attending the State of the Union as a guest of freshmen Texas Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar. Navar and other guests, many of whom are DACA recipients, and the members hosting them participated in a press briefing before the speech hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Escobar recalled that in August Nancy Pelosi visited her district and Navar told the soon-to-be speaker, “Do not trade me for a wall.” Pelosi would later share that encounter as an example of why Democrats should not give into Trump’s demands, Escobar said.
Watch: SOTU: A brief history
Jin Park of Queens, N.Y., the first DACA recipient to ever be awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, recalled visiting the State of Liberty as a child and marveling at its symbolism.
“The symbols that a society adopts matters,” he said. “And so when we say to the American people and we say to world that a symbol the president of the United States is going to adopt is a wall, that matters. That changes the structure of reality going forward in terms of what we say to immigrants, what we say to people in the United States.”
Park, who is attending Trump’s address as a guest of New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng, said that if all undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. were to be deported, “it wouldn’t be America.”
Devani Gonzalez, a DACA recipient attending as freshmen Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia’s guest, said the wall isn’t the biggest issue.
“The issue is he’s trying to trade us for the wall,” she said.
DACA recipient Ronnie James, New York Rep. Yvette Clarke’s guest, agreed.
“Our lives aren’t supposed to be used as leverage for a piece of architecture,” he said.
Democratic lawmakers also oppose the border wall, whether on its own or in exchange for DACA protections.
“Doing so I think would be a mistake because DACA is not a national security threat,” California Rep. Norma Torres said.
“Democrats have control of the House. This is a bipartisan issue. There shouldn’t need to be a trade for permanent protections for DACA recipients and TPS,” added California Rep. Nanette Barragán.