President Trump is giving his first State of the Union address on Tuesday has invited an extensive and diverse array of guests. Among them is Evelyn Rodriguez. The announcement of her invitation has propelled the name Kayla Cuevas back into the news. But just who was Kayla Cuevas? She was Rodriguez's daughter who was brutally killed by MS-13 gang members in 2016; since then, Cuevas' death has become embedded in the Trump administration's anti-immigration platform. For this and other reasons, her mother's SOTU attendance is controversial to say the least.
Cuevas, along with her friend 15-year-old Nisa Mickens, was killed in a suburban cul-de-sac after an attempted kidnapping by members of the MS-13 gang. Their story has since been used as justification for the GOP's crackdown on undocumented immigrants, according to the New York Times. Most recently, she was invited to attend the SOTU and, while she feels honored to have been invited to the address, she told the Times that she is not attending for reasons related to immigration. Instead, she is looking to get resources for the children of her community who are affected by the rampant gang violence:
I want him to ensure that we’re going to get the proper funding for the resources for our kids. I’m not here for anybody’s political gain. I just want what’s right to be done. Everybody should put their political agenda aside and think about what’s going on in our country.
If Trump is looking to Rodriguez to make a statement in favor of his policies, he should probably look elsewhere. She is a registered Democrat, according to the Times, and since her daughter died, she has been working to fight gang violence as an advocate — which has led her to work with, not against, immigrant families for the betterment of her community. She has also been helping the Suffolk County Police Department’s campaign against gang violence. Rather than root out immigrants, Rodriguez is more interested in combating gangs.
President Trump visited Suffolk County in July to speak with law enforcement about immigration and criminal activity, along with issues of gang violence, according to News Day, and Rodriguez was in attendance then as well. She came prepared, with a list of ideas and requests for federal money to devote to gang prevention and social services. Unfortunately, she didn't get an opportunity to share her concerns. Chances are, she still has that list and anti-immigration policy changes aren't on it. She explained her views on immigration to the Times, saying:
Immigration is not my forte. What I’ve been saying from Day One: Everybody has the right for the American dream and that should be there for them. They’re good people, they give back to the community.
Trump's address comes at a time when the fate of the DACA DREAMers remains up in the air. The White House recently offered Congress an opportunity to allow the 1.8 million undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children in the country to stay. That number includes the 690,000 immigrants affected by President Donald Trump’s decision to end DACA. The only catch is the requirement to cut family-based immigration, which provides preference to applicants with family members already in the country, and the tightening of the asylum law, which allows those who come to the U.S. seeking protection from persecution to remain in the country. What Trump sees as a compassionate compromise, his opponents and immigrant-rights activists see as a slap in the face because of how these policy changes would affect thousands of families.
The uncertainty surrounding the DREAMers future status in the U.S. has put a strain on party relations between Trump and his opposition. The DREAMers are hoping for the kind of opportunity that Rodriguez described in her comment and many Democrats — 24 to be specific, according to TIME — are bringing DREAMers along with them to the SOTU to make a point about the need for a real solution to their problem.
Rodriguez's presence at the address, combined with her views on immigration and the looming fate of the DREAMers makes for a bit of controversy. But, considering the serious issues on the table, maybe that's a good thing.