Denea Joseph is not like the DACA recipients you usually hear about. Her experience as a black undocumented woman who was brought from Belize to California illegally at the age of seven has led her to take a vocal stance against the White House plan for immigration reform.
Joseph attended the State of the Union last night as a guest of California Senator Kamala Harris. She spoke with Take Two Tuesday night following the president's remarks.
Being in the room where it happened
Joseph is a part of the national movement UndocuBlack, a network that works toward giving more visibility and resources to the undocumented black community. The opportunity to be in the room was not lost on her.
Joseph: "Being an UndocuBlack immigrant from Belize in Central America isn't a normal narrative or a typical narrative that you hear. So by virtue of being an invitee, I'm allowed a very privileged opportunity to be able to advocate on behalf of these issues with my community and have these conversations in a very real way. And put a face to the numbers of people that they often talk about."
"I think being present in that room," Joseph said, "is more so about our community than it is about the President's first State of the Union address."
Calling for unity
During the State of the Union, the president said he had worked to craft "a bipartisan approach to immigration reform." As Denea Joseph listened from her seat, she wanted to call for a different kind of unity. One among immigrants themselves.
Joseph: "Trying to use the 800,000 DACA recipients and the potential 1.8 million people who would receive the pathway to citizenship against the remainder of the immigrant community...seeking to create an us versus them mentality in which children, undocumented youth in particular, are being crafted in a narrative of, 'oh they came here at no fault of their own.' And everybody else who doesn't fit that mold, fit that picture, fit that time frame, is classified within his administration and within his proposed pathway to citizenship as being criminals."
Changes on the horizon
The President laid out a four-pillar immigration reform plan that he would like to see:
- The end of the visa lottery.
- The end of "chain migration" by eliminating an immigrant's option to sponsor extended family members for visas (though it should be noted, this can only be done once he or she becomes a U.S. citizen).
- Securing the border by building a wall and bringing on more border officers.
- Lastly, under this reform, a path to citizenship will be offered to "1.8 million illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents at a young age."
Joseph: "What we need to do is create a path to citizenship that doesn't further separate our communities from one another. Some of the proposed measures that the president and his administration want to take is being able to move forward with a pathway to citizenship that eliminates the option of a family reunification program and that limits the number of diversity visa recipients."
Altogether, the president spent about 15 minutes talking about immigration at Tuesday night's State of the Union. Joseph did not agree on a single point during those 15 minutes, though it did galvanize her.
Joseph: "It is motivation to me. And I will use the motivation that I have to continue to mobilize my community, to ensure that we get a clean dream act. Not come February 8th, not come March 5th, but now. That's what our presence, my presence and the remainder of the DACA recipients who were in that room had to do and had to say. It's the necessary step to ensure that we remain positive and optimistic moving forward for this fight."
To see President Trump's first State of the Union address, click here.