- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

They battled across the airwaves for months.

On one side were the “valedictorians,” the high-achieving illegal immigrant Dreamers who have become the face of the drive for a more lenient immigration policy.

Matched up on the other side were the “victims,” those who had lost relatives to illegal immigrant crimes and who have gained a nationwide profile in the past 18 months, thanks chiefly to President Trump and his unorthodox campaign.

On Tuesday, both the victims and the valedictorians were in the same room, watching as Mr. Trump addressed a joint session of Congress.

The Dreamers — at least a half-dozen — came as guests of Democratic lawmakers, who said they wanted Mr. Trump to see the true diversity of the country.

“This is what America looks like, where it doesn’t matter where you’re from, ethnicity, language, race, sexual orientation — it makes America great,” said Martin Batalla Vidal, a Dreamer who said he is a member of the LGBT community and who is part of a major legal case challenging the limits a federal judge put on President Obama’s deportation amnesty.

“Instead of building walls, we should be building bridges,” he said.

The victims, meanwhile, were the guests of Mr. Trump.

Sitting alongside first lady Melania Trump was Jamiel Shaw Sr., father of a 17-year-old boy shot in 2008 by an illegal immigrant gang member.

Also in the first lady’s box were Jessica Davis, widow of a deputy sheriff, and Susan Oliver and Jenna Oliver, the widow and daughter of a detective. Both officers were killed by an illegal immigrant who went on a shooting and carjacking rampage in 2014. That man had been deported twice before but sneaked back into the U.S.

Mr. Trump told Jenna, “Your father was a hero.”

“What President Trump did, and no other candidate on either side has acknowledged, is the tragic effects of illegal immigration,” said Maria Espinoza, national director of the Remembrance Project, a network of families struck by illegal immigrant crime.

Mr. Trump shook up the immigration debate Tuesday when a senior White House official said he is ready to embrace a bill legalizing most illegal immigrants.

Dreamers could earn full status, while others would be allowed to live and work without fear of deportation but wouldn’t be able to get citizenship, television news networks reported after their anchors met with Mr. Trump ahead of his speech.

The White House said, however, that a deal would require compromise from both sides — something that has been elusive for more than a decade.

Mr. Trump didn’t delve that deeply into the issue in his speech.

The victims’ families have fought for years to get on an equal footing with illegal immigrants, but it took Mr. Trump to get them there.

He launched his campaign about the same time as the slaying of Kate Steinle, a 32-year-old woman killed while walking the San Francisco waterfront with her father. An illegal immigrant protected by San Francisco’s sanctuary policy admitted to the shooting. Mr. Trump latched onto Steinle’s death and quickly discovered the network of other families who had suffered tragic losses to illegal immigration but who were largely ignored.

Mr. Trump invited victims to speak at his nominating convention in July, called victims to share the stage during his marquee immigration speech in August and attended the Remembrance Project’s first conference in September.

Meanwhile, the Dreamers played an outsized role for Democrats, appearing at Hillary Clinton’s nominating convention. Democratic leaders in Congress tapped a Dreamer, Astrid Silva, to deliver their official Spanish-language response Tuesday to Mr. Trump.

“President Trump is taking us back to some of the darkest times in our history: criminalizing anyone who is different, pitting us against each other, and sending the wrong message to the rest of the world, helping to breed anger and hate from terrorist groups to our country,” Ms. Silva said in the English translation of her remarks.

In addition to Dreamers, Democrats hosted the U.S. citizen children of a Phoenix mother deported earlier this month because of a criminal conviction for identity fraud. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi also hosted Jose Antonio Vargas, an illegal immigrant and former Washington Post reporter who missed out on Dreamer status because he was too old.

He has no specific protection from deportation, and said he could be kicked out of the country. “I am done hiding,” he said in an op-ed for The Post on Tuesday.

Democrats argue that Mr. Trump’s deportation policies are cruel and would result in the separation of families.

“He has put America on a road map to mass deportation, and everywhere I go I see the fear. People shouldn’t be hiding in the shadows,” said newly minted Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez.

Ms. Espinoza, though, said illegal immigrants haven’t faced the real family separation of having a relative killed.

“They’re buried 6 feet under, and no plane ticket or flight can get them to see their child again,” she said.

Dreamers countered that judging illegal immigrants by the behavior of criminals is unfair.

“You can’t paint the picture with one incident or a few incidents,” said Oscar Juarez-Luna, a Dreamer who was the guest of Rep. Jared Polis, Colorado Democrat, for Mr. Trump’s speech.

Mr. Juarez-Luna was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. with his family at age 8. He was raised in Phoenix, but after Arizona approved its immigration crackdown law, SB 1070, in 2010, his family wanted to get away from that atmosphere and moved to Colorado — though the fear persisted.

“We had the habit of always having to look over our shoulders. We always had the fear of being deported for simply just getting pulled over for driving without a license. That is a true fear; that is a real fear that 11 million undocumented immigrants have to face,” he said.

He and three of his siblings are all working in the U.S. legally. His eldest sibling, though, was a few weeks too old to qualify for President Obama’s 2012 amnesty, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

On an issue where so much is gray, the Dreamers and the victims represent the extremes of the debate. Dreamers have long been the most sympathetic class of illegal immigrants, having usually been brought to the U.S. by their families with little say in the decision and having often grown up as American as any other child.

There are 750,000 approved Dreamers — those who have been granted a temporary stay of deportation under DACA.

Nobody knows, however, how many victims of illegal immigrant crime are out there, Ms. Espinoza said.

“We can only guess on our side. It’s evident the government doesn’t want the public to know the results of illegal immigration,” she said.

That could be changing.

Mr. Trump, in his Jan. 25 executive orders on immigration enforcement, called for a special victims office to help those struck by crimes perpetrated by illegal immigrants.

“We are providing a voice to those who have been ignored by our media and silenced by special interests,” he said Tuesday night.

Some Democrats hissed at Mr. Trump’s declaration.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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