Immigrants in Chicago speak out on State of the Union message

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Gunil Park, a Korean who came here through the family reunification program, Amer Alsabbagh, a Syrian who has Temporary Protected Status, and Susanna Salgado, a Mexican who has Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status, speak at an Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights round table before the State of the Union Tuesday. | Maudlyne Ihejirika

Immigrants here gathered in advance of President Donald Trump’s State of the Union message on Tuesday, already knowing what the president’s message was going to be on making vast cuts to immigration.

“We know the policies put forward. We knew what that framing was going to be,” said Lawrence Benito, CEO of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, at an immigration round table.

The administration has revoked the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and begun dismantling the Temporary Protected Status program, and Trump has proposed a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million DACA “Dreamers” brought to the U.S. as children, in exchange for gutting legal immigration.

“‘Dreamers’ don’t stand behind any proposal that would benefit us, but hurt other people,” said DACA recipient Susana Salgado, 34, from Mexico.

Trump’s carrot for protecting the young people comes with restrictions to the family visa program that allows citizens and permanent residents to bring over family members, and elimination of the diversity visa lottery allowing immigrants from underrepresented countries to come.

“I came here through the family visa program when I was 22,” said Gunil Park, 37, who is Korean. “We worked hard and studied hard, and now my sister is even working for the government. Reunifying families are American values.”

Ghanaian Nancy Asirifi-Otchere, 41, who came under the diversity lottery visa, was denied a tourist visa three times, and applied for the diversity lottery 10 times before getting it.

“In 2015, about 31 percent of beneficiaries were from Africa. It’s one of the few ways Africans get to come here lawfully,” she said. “We don’t understand why the current administration is using us as bargaining chips.”

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