As Donald Trump prepares to issue his first address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, he will bring with him as guests the family members of those killed by undocumented immigrants to cast a spotlight on illegal immigration.
The White House issued a guest list for the president and first lady, Melania Trump, which included three relatives who lost loved ones at the hands of an individual found to have entered the country illegally.
Jessica Davis and Susan Oliver, the widows of two California police officers who were fatally shot in 2014 by an undocumented immigrant, were attending. The 34-year-old man charged in the Sacramento area slayings had twice been deported from the US.
Another guest, Jamiel Shaw Sr, is the father of a 17-year-old boy who was shot and killed in 2008 by an undocumented immigrant. Shaw spoke in favor of Trump at the Republican national convention in Cleveland last year.
Although Trump let it be known on Tuesday at a lunch with television networks that he was open to immigration reform which would grant legal status to some undocumented people, administration officials said Trump planned to emphasize his plans to crack down on illegal immigration. The president has already signed executive orders that would dramatically expanded the pool of immigrants targeted for deportation and set in motion the building of a wall along the US-Mexico border.
On the campaign trail, Trump’s rallies and speeches routinely featured the stories of victims killed by immigrants who arrived in the US illegally – even though such cases are extremely rare.
Two of Trump’s other guests on Tuesday have stories tied to healthcare: Megan Crowley, who is the survivor of a rare and often fatal disease and whose father launched a pharmaceutical company; and Jessica Gregory, who along with her mother will sit near Melania Trump and who also persevered through a life-threatening disease.
During his remarks, Trump is expected to lay out a vision for healthcare policy. He has insisted his plan remains to repeal and replace Barack Obama’s healthcare law, but Republicans have yet to coalesce around a clear alternative.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a deputy press secretary at the White House, told reporters the primary reason for selecting guests was to highlight “specific parts of the speech and specific parts of the agenda”.
“It’s pretty obvious the reason that most of them are there,” Sanders said of Trump’s guests.
“And he’s laid out those priorities since day one of his administration, so I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.”
It’s commonplace for presidents and members of Congress to choose guests for the annual address who help to advance a political message. Obama invited several victims of gun violence to his State of the Union address in 2013 while making a passionate plea for a vote on stricter gun laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
Democrats seized on Trump’s first speech before Congress as an opportunity to take a stand against his policies toward immigrants and Muslims.
Among their guests were undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children, known as Dreamers, who fear Trump will dismantle Obama’s 2012 order granting millions of them temporary legal status.
Other guests brought by Democrats included those affected by Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. The White House is expected to unveil a revised executive order this week that will reinstate the ban, which was suspended by a federal appeals court earlier this month.