Rep. Grace Meng Announces First Dreamer Rhodes Scholar As State Of The Union Guest

Meng says Jin Park, an undocumented college student, will help highlight the inaction regarding DACA.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) will bring Jin Park as her guest to Trump's speech Tuesday.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) will bring Jin Park as her guest to Trump's speech Tuesday.
Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) will be making a silent statement at Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

The congresswoman announced last week that she is bringing Jin Park, the first undocumented immigrant in the U.S. to receive a Rhodes Scholarship, to President Donald Trump’s annual speech before Congress. Meng told HuffPost that she hopes it will highlight Trump’s error in terminating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which had benefited Park.

Meng, who called the termination of DACA “heartless and cruel,” said the program had “allowed hundreds of thousands of DREAMers to come out of the shadows and contribute to our country.” (DACA recipients are often called Dreamers after the DREAM Act, which would have allowed a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. The DREAM Act, however, has never passed Congress.)

“Jin’s presence at the State of the Union will help keep the spotlight on how the president’s decision has devastated these hardworking young people and how it has put their futures in limbo,” Meng told HuffPost.

Jin Park, the first undocumented Rhodes Scholar, will attend the State of the Union address.
Jin Park, the first undocumented Rhodes Scholar, will attend the State of the Union address.
Office of Rep. Grace Meng.

Trump tried to end the Obama-era policy in September 2017, potentially leaving about 700,000 young people without protections if a permanent replacement is not passed. Since then, several court rulings have kept the program in place. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals also ruled against the Trump administration last November. And though Trump had offered a limited DACA deal in exchange for border wall funding, the Supreme Court recently took no action on the termination of DACA, maintaining the current holds on the program even as the impasse on wall funding continues.

Park hopes to head to Oxford in the fall as part of the prestigious scholarship program, but he said he’s unsure whether he’ll be able to return to the U.S. following his studies because of DACA’s murky future.

“Jin’s story will also highlight the urgent need to come up with a permanent solution to the problem,” Meng explained to HuffPost. “I am proud to stand in solidarity with Jin and all DACA recipients whose hopes and dreams hang in the balance as a result of the president’s decision.”

Park, from New York City’s Flushing neighborhood, came to the U.S. from South Korea when he was 7. After immigrating, his father took up jobs in Korean restaurants while his mother worked in nail salons.

“So if you’ve ever eaten at a Korean restaurant or received a mani-pedi in New York City, congratulations. Like it or not, you may have partially subsidized the education of what Fox News would call an illegal alien,” Park quipped during a speech in front of Harvard’s class of 2018.

The student currently juggles involvement in several other immigrant advocacy-related nonprofits including his own, Higher Dreams, which provides resources to undocumented students looking to go to college. When news of his scholarship hit, Meng said she felt proud of her young constituent.

“I was thrilled when I learned that he is a constituent. It’s a tremendous achievement for him and it highlights the opportunities that can be created from working and studying hard,” Meng said. “His accomplishment shows the outstanding talent that exists among students here in Queens. It would be shameful if he has to abandon this coveted opportunity due to the president’s decision to terminate DACA.”

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