A Guatemalan asylum-seeker who was separated from her three children by Donald Trump’s immigration policies will attend tonight’s State of the Union address, as a guest of the first formerly undocumented immigrant ever elected to Congress.
Yeni González-Garcia and her children, ages 6, 9, and 11, were separated for more than a month last year, after she was detained under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” regime for people who crossed the US border illegally.
Tonight González is scheduled to attend the annual address at the US Capitol as a guest of representative Adriano Espaillat, the first-ever Dominican—and first formerly undocumented immigrant—elected to Congress. The New York Democrat came to the US in the 1960s at age 9, stayed for more than a year on expired paperwork, and didn’t get his US citizenship until his late 20s.
“The anti-immigrant agenda put forth by this administration weighs deeply on my heart,” Espaillat said on the House floor earlier today (Feb. 5). He said he is working to “ensure America remains open to immigrants and immigrant families like my own and many others who have worked tirelessly to make our nation strong.”
González, 29, will be one of dozens of politically sensitive special guests attending the speech. Others include transgender soldiers, survivors of gun violence, family members of people murdered by undocumented immigrants, and a boy bullied at school because his last name is Trump.
Asked today what message she was hoping to send the president, and the country as a whole that had separated her family, González was positive. “I am grateful for everything, for being here,” she told Quartz in an interview at the Capitol.
González says she and her family traveled to the United States by bus through Mexico to escape gang violence in Guatemala. She asked for asylum and was ultimately remanded to a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in Arizona, while her kids were sent to a shelter in New York City. More than 2,300 children were separated from their parents during May and June of 2018.
After six weeks apart, González and her children finally reunited in July and are currently living in North Carolina while their asylum claim is processed. González said she doesn’t know how long it will take for her case to be processed, and noted that the administration seems “really backed up with its cases.” González’s immigration attorney, José Xavier Orochena, told Time last July that her asylum claim is likely to take years.
Hundreds, possibly thousands, of other children of asylum-seekers remain in US custody, separated from their parents. Requesting asylum on US soil is legal under American and international law, regardless of how someone crosses into the country. It is a precedent that Trump had hoped to overturn, but that plan has been thus far thwarted by US courts.
Just this weekend, Trump took to Twitter to rail against “Caravans marching through Mexico and toward our Country,” and is expected to criticize undocumented immigrants like González in his speech tonight.
“I hope things will change and I have faith in God that my process will turn out well,” González says. She is hoping to move eventually to New York City, and for her children to be formally enrolled in US public schools. “The longer my case gets prolonged, I think the better chance I have of staying here,” she says.