In November, Jin Park from Flushing, Queens made history as the first DACA recipient to earn the esteemed Rhodes Scholarship. It was “one of the biggest honors” of his life, he said, and on Tuesday, he’ll experience another honor as he attends the 2019 State of the Union address as the guest of New York Congresswoman Grace Meng.
“It’s pretty surreal,” said Park, 22, speaking from the Boston airport before his flight to Washington. A recent Harvard graduate, Park is staying in the Boston area as he figures out his next steps, though he plans to come back to New York permanently at some point, he said, because it’s “always home.”
“I never really thought about government as something I could participate in, because I can’t vote, and us undocumented immigrants, as a general proposition, can’t run for office,” he added. “We live in such a state of uncertainty that participating in the process is not something that we tend to think about as something we can do, so having this opportunity is really meaningful.”
Park, 22, came to the United States with his family from South Korea when he was 7 years old, and they settled in Queens —Meng’s district specifically.
As a Rhodes Scholar, Park needs to attend the University of Oxford in England to continue his studies. But as a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, he’s worried about not being allowed back in the country if he leaves the U.S.
Meng chose to invite Park to the 2019 State of the Union to “bring more attention to his plight and show firsthand how President Trump’s un-American immigration policies are shattering the lives of Dreamers,” she said in a statement. Former President Barack Obama issued the DACA executive order in June 2012; President Donald Trump ended the program in Sept. 2017, leaving about 700,000 lives in limbo.
But Park won’t just be representing other Dreamers at the State of the Union. He’ll be highlighting Queens — where immigrants make up just under half of the borough’s overall population — and New York City’s general reputation for creating policies with immigrants in mind.
“One of the many reason why I’m here is because of New York City and Queens in particular. I came out of public education, I’m a product of New York City public institutions like Health + Hospitals,” he said. “These kinds of public safety net systems that we’ve put in place in New York City are the reason why I’ve been healthy and successful.”
Importance of immigrants among 2019 State of the Union guests
Park isn’t the only immigrant attending the 2019 State of the Union as a Congress Member’s guest. New York Representative Adriano Espaillat is bringing Yeni Gonzalez Garcia, a Guatemalan immigrant who was separated from her three children at the Arizona border last year. Congresswoman Watson Coleman of New Jersey and Congressman Jimmy Gomez of California are bringing Victoria Morales and and Sandra Diaz respectively, two undocumented former Trump Organization employees.
Last year, more than 20 Congress Members brought DACA recipients as their guests, and others brought immigration activists and Temporary Protected Status holders.
President Donald Trump gave his first State of the Union Address in Jan. 2018. Getty Images
Park said their presence was especially relevant then, because of the pressure to find a permanent solution for DACA recipients. But even this year, the representation of immigrants is still important in order to highlight the “immense uncertainty” undocumented immigrants constantly live under.
“I think it’s important to note that immigration should not be a political issue,” he added. “There’s been a long standing trend of immigration becoming this political football people punt around. I’m under the impression given the wall, and a lot of rhetoric regarding Mexican immigration [that] it’s become very fraught, but I think it shouldn’t be that way.”
Other guests of New York Congress Members for the 2019 State of the Union include transgender Navy Lt. Cmdr. Blake Dremann, who is also the president of SPARTA, an LGBT Military Advocacy organization, as the guest of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Gene Karpinski, president of environmental advocacy group League of Conservation Voters, as Rep. Paul Tonko’s guest; and Ana Maria Archila, who is from Queens and is one of two women who confronted former Sen. Jeff Flake in an elevator last year over then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, as the guest of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.