Feedback
News

Lawmakers, First Lady Put Faces to SOTU Immigration Message

Illinois members with guests. Suzanne Gamboa / NBC News

Though no surprises were expected on the immigration front in Tuesday night’s State of the Union, Democrats and the first lady were ensuring the speech had an immigration stamp.

The lawmakers and Michelle Obama made some strategic choices in whom they invited to join them to hear President Barack Obama deliver this year's speech.

The future of immigration reform, at this point, is in Republican hands. On Wednesday, GOP members head to Maryland’s Eastern Shore for a retreat where House leaders are expected to brief them on general principles guiding the immigration reform legislation they are assembling.

Obama has been giving Republicans some space to work even though he has said previously he supports a path to citizenship for those illegally in the country and the Senate included a 13-year path in its comprehensive immigration legislation.

“We’re all waiting to see what the next move by the Republicans is,” said Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill.

Foster’s invitee: Maria Torres, a 25-year-old émigré from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. She came to the U.S. with her parents, illegally. They wanted better educational opportunities for her, to work and to escape the violence and disappearances of many Juarez girls and women, she said.

“Immigration has a lot of faces. It’s the people who might be in the kitchen, the people who might be entrepreneurs, who have run businesses, the day laborers,” Torres said.

Other Illinois Democrats _ Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Brad Schneider and Mike Quigley _invited immigrants to be their guests for the speech in an organized effort spearheaded by Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. Gutierrez's guest, Tony Suarez, is a vice president with the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, an evangelical group heavily involved in immigration activism.

“Democrats stand 100 percent for the immigrant community and my Republican friends and colleagues, they don’t even have to meet us halfway. A few of them just have to come along and we can do comprehensive immigration reform,” Gutierrez said.

Cristian Avila, who participated in a nearly 22-day fast on the National Mall to pressure House Speaker John Boehner to call a vote on immigration legislation, is joining the first lady. Avila was brought to the U.S. when he was 9 and has temporary relief from deportation extended to some immigrant children by the Obama administration.

Her invitee list also includes Dominican immigrant Estiven Rodriguez, whose academic success the White House touted in a statement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s guest is Eliseo Medina, chairman of the Service Employees International Union’s immigration campaign. Medina also participated in the National Mall fast and will be taking that protest form on the road.

Also inviting guests who are immigrants: Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, whose guest is a senior in the top 10 percent of his high school class and wants to join the Army but is not legally in the country. He was brought to the U.S. by his parents when he was 2.

Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., invited Mayra Rubio Limon, a native of Jalisco, Mexico, a college freshman brought to the United States as a child.