The small group of immigrants who gathered for a State of the Union watch party in Queens Tuesday night didn’t technically plan on watching the president speak.
“When he starts talking, we’re going to turn our backs to the screen,” explained Antonio Alacaron, a DACA recipient and immigration youth organizer at Make the Road New York, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights and Latino communities. “Just the way he has turned his back on us and our community the last year.”
But even as Alacaron and the 15 or so others at Make the Road’s headquarters in Jackson Heights sat quietly, poker-faced, through most of the speech, they couldn’t help but react when Trump began talking about immigration.
“This is insane,” Alacaron said softly, shaking his head as Trump talked about his proposed plan to create a 12-year pathway to citizenship for “1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age,” in exchange for “building a great wall on the southern border” and other increased security measures.
“It’s sad to hear that to have citizenship we have to give up the safety of our parents,” Alacaron told Yahoo News after the address, adding that attempts to tie citizenship for ‘Dreamers’ to increased spending for the wall and other immigration enforcement is “something we’re not going to compromise on.”
“It’s upsetting to hear that someone who says they’re representing Americans first is not really representing me and my community members,” he said.
As the elevated trains rumbled overhead, Trump’s voice could barely be heard over the Spanish-language translation of his speech on Telemundo. But certain words, such as “horrible people” and “gang members,” managed to penetrate through the noise, as Trump lamented how “for decades” our supposedly “open borders have allowed drugs and gangs to pour into our most vulnerable communities,” pointing to the parents of two young women killed by members of the MS-13 gang as he called for increased border security.
“He portrayed immigrants as criminals, as people who are illegal,” said Yatziri Tovar, a 25-year-old DACA recipient who moved to the Bronx from Mexico at age 2. Trump’s speech, she said, “gave me a sense of what this nation is going to be for next three years.”
Tovar was particularly disheartened by Trump’s reiteration of his recent proposal for an immigration deal that includes a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers over a period of 10 to 12 years.
“I came at age of 2, have been living here over two decades,” she said. “For him to tell me I have to wait 12 more years to become a citizen is ridiculous.”
“This is where we grew up, where we went to school,” she added.
On Wednesday, Tovar, who graduated from the City University of New York last year with a degree in political science, will start her new job in the communications department of Make the Road.
“It’s any recent college graduate’s dream to be able to work full-time,” she said, adding “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that when my DACA expires” in 2019.
“I basically have a year to save money,” she said, adding that by ending programs like DACA as well as temporary protected status for the victims of war or natural disasters in El Salvador and Haiti, Trump has essentially “created more undocumented people.”