When presidents deliver their messages at the State of the Union, so do members of Congress by the guests they invite. A tradition ‘The Great Communicator,’ President Ronald Reagan, started in the 1980s.
“Bringing people as props is a great way of telling the story that you want to tell,” said Matt Hale, associate professor of political science at Seton Hall University.
Rep. Frank Pallone is among the congressional delegation inviting “Dreamers.” Esder Chong, a native of South Korea, is an active Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival, or DACA, recipient who founded an advocacy group at Rutgers called RU Dreamers. She lives in Highland Park, the same town ICE agents stormed last Thursday and jailed two Christian Indonesians with final orders to leave the country.
“For the first time, I was actually feeling very anxious and fearful, but also like angry and frustrated that even though me and all the students I know are very hard workers, we work full time while paying tuition out of pocket and we have to see our parents go through labor intensive work just to survive in this country. But this administration does not have our back,” said Chong.
Sen. Cory Booker has invited “Dreamer” Elizabeth Vilchis, a 29-year-old entrepreneur who lobbied Congress last fall for a law to make her status legal a month after the president said he would end DACA.
Vilchis says hard economic times drove her family from Mexico 22 years ago. She says she feels she’s made the most of living in America.
“DACA means a lot to me. I feel that DACA has really allowed me to fulfill what I believe is my purpose in this country and in my life,” said Vilchis.
“Congress is at work on this. There’s moderate Republicans working with Democrats trying to get to a good, solid bill. The president is a person who seems to change his position on immigration depending on who he talked to last,” said Booker.
Democratic Rep. Albio Sires is boycotting the State of the Union.
“I’m basically not going because I don’t like the way President Trump has referred to the people in my district. It’s just been disgusting the way he has addressed the people in my district. My district is a district where a lot of immigrants reside,” said Sires.
One Arizona Republican’s tweet is drawing condemnation. Rep. Paul Gosar writes, “Any illegal aliens attempting to go through security, under any pretext of invitation or otherwise, should be arrested and deported.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman has invited the niece of Recy Taylor, who was gang raped by six white men who were never prosecuted in Alabama in 1944.
Rep. Donald Norcross has invited Analilia Mejia, head of New Jersey Working Families.
Rep. Leonard Lance has invited Trump loyalist and State Sen. Michael Doherty.
“Sen. Doherty is my elected successor in the state Senate and he represents me where I live in Clinton Township in Hunterdon County in the state Senate,” Lance said.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer has invited the father of Darren Drake, who was killed in the Halloween terror act in Manhattan, and he hopes Jimmy Drake’s presence will lead to a law requiring background checks for renting cars and trucks.
“There’s no better way to start building momentum for an important and necessary piece of legislation like this. It is an enormous honor for me to have them with us tomorrow,” said Gottheimer.
But with all the guests invited, does it diminish the impact?
“The individual story matters, so I think it’s still very effective,” said Hale.
And so is delivering a statement where it’s all about the talk.