When Cal State Fullerton student Miriam Tellez attended Tuesday’s State of the Union address, she described it as a validation of her immigrant journey.
“It was definitely like a fantasy,” Tellez said. “It was amazing being in a room where history is made.”
Tellez, 22, received an invitation from Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Yorba Linda), who wanted to show support for recipients of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which granted protection from deportation to hundreds of thousands of undocumented people brought over as children. Tellez was one of these so-called “Dreamers.”
“[Tellez] is a leader in her community at Cal State Fullerton as an advocate for supporting our Dreamers and [temporary protected status] holders who are seeking higher education degrees,” Cisneros said in a news release. “Dreamers are students, service members, neighbors and our friends.”
President Trump moved to end DACA in 2017, but last month offered temporary protections for Dreamers in exchange for funding his long-promised border wall.
“Above all, they are real people. And it is crass and inhumane for the president to try and leverage them, their families, and the DACA program he is responsible for ending to extract a senseless border wall,” Cisneros said. “Dreamers are so much more than bargaining chips; they are valued community members who want nothing more than to contribute to the country they love.”
Trump, in January, called his proposal “straightforward, fair, reasonable and common sense with lots of compromise.”
Tellez, who came to America from Mexico with her family when she was 8, said much of the rhetoric in Trump’s State of the Union Address stereotyped immigrants.
One particular line in the address that she disliked: “Legal immigrants enrich our nation and strengthen our society in countless ways.”
Tellez called the president’s statement only partially true because it purposefully overlooked contributions to this country by undocumented immigrants.
“Immigrants as a whole make the nation great,” Tellez said.
Tellez was one of about 20 immigrants, some facing possible deportation, invited as guests to in the House chamber that night. She called meeting some of her political heroes, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the most memorable part of the trip.
“I personally think of politics as a different realm — one that affects me but seems so far away,” Tellez said. “Having that experience to meet the people who get to make policies that affect history was big for me.”
Tellez believes her life is a testament to the potential of immigrants. Fueled, like so many others, by the promise of a world-class education she and her family left Mexico and settled in Pasadena. The four children were primarily raised by Tellez’s mother; her father died about three years ago.
Tellez will graduate this year with a degree in sociology, a change from her original major: international business.
“I chose it as a safety route because I knew I was undocumented, and I knew the possibility of being deported,” Tellez said. “I wanted to have something that would prepare me internationally.”
Tellez was exposed to topics like social inequality and identity while working in Fullerton’s resource center for Dreamers. The work resonated with Tellez, leading her to sociology. She hopes to eventually get her doctorate in the subject.
“It always revolved around education for my family,” Tellez said. “Now three of the children are in a university. I’d say we are doing pretty well.”