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As Congress moves forward with immigration reform, we take a look at how this issue connects to culture, business and families in the Northwest.Our region is home to a unique blend of immigrants who work in all parts of our economy — from high-tech to agriculture. This population already has a deeply-rooted history here. And its ranks are expanding rapidly.Proposals for comprehensive immigration reform address border security, employment verification, guest-worker programs and pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the US.

Last Year He Faced Deportation; Tonight He’ll Attend State Of The Union

Juan Andres Macedo with his mother at a farm stand in Mount Vernon.
Courtesy Juan Macedo
Juan Andres Macedo with his mother at a farm stand in Mount Vernon. Macedo will be in the audience at the State of the Union address on Tuesday evening.

A high school senior from Mount Vernon, Washington will be in the audience on Tuesday night for President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Juan Andres Macedo says the invitation came as a shock.

“I actually didn’t say anything,” Macedo recalls. “I was just gasping.”

Macedo got the call from Rep. Suzan DelBene’s office. He immediately agreed to be her guest for the president’s annual speech.

Macedo, 17, says he hopes Obama’s speech includes a renewed call for comprehensive immigration reform. Macedo is an undocumented immigrant whose family came here from Mexico in 2007 on a tourist visa, which they overstayed.

This has been a year of shocking moments for Macedo. The first was on a January night last year when he was visiting a friend in Blaine, Washington, a border town. Border agents stopped him and asked to see ID. Macedo remembers when the handcuffs clicked onto his wrists.

“I saw all my dreams just come shattering, like you would see plates, like china plates, shattering as they fall on the ground,” Macedo says.

Macedo, an honor student, plays basketball and percussion in the school band. He takes classes at the local community college through the state’s Running Start program.

“Juan is exactly the type of student we should be talking about supporting, not deporting,” DelBene says. DelBene and other members of Washington's Congressional delegation became involved in Macedo’s deportation case and sent letters of support to federal immigration officials.

Six months after border agents detained Macedo, a judge allowed for administrative closure of his case. That means his case is no longer in the queue for prosecution, but Macedo and his family are still without legal status in the U.S. and could face deportation.

A federal plan called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA,  offers legal protection to young people like Macedo, who were brought here as kids. But he misses the age cutoff by 24 days.

In November, Obama announced an executive action to an expand DACA to a wider range of people -- including Macedo. Macedo remembers watching TV with a friend when he saw the news.

“It felt like Sunday night football touchdown,” Macedo says. “It was like, yes!”

With DACA, Macedo would be able to apply for more scholarships and get a work permit.

But Obama’s executive action is controversial. Last week, House Republicans passed a measure to block the policy changes. At least two dozen states are also challenging the plan in federal court.

DelBene says immigration reform is one of many tough issues she’s eager to hear Obama tackle in his State of the Union address.

“Making sure we have immigration reform is critical,” DelBene says. “Making sure that we have an economy working for everyone in our region -- everything from access to great education and college affordability. But also things like minimum wage and making sure that people who are working are able to take care of themselves and their families.”

DelBene says she’s hopeful the Republican-led Congress will be able to pass legislation on some of these initiatives that Obama is expected to outline in tonight’s address.

Macedo says he is optimistic that Obama’s executive action will move forward. For now, he’s thrilled for the chance to tour around Washington, D.C., for the first time. And as for Obama’s speech, there is something he hopes to hear. 

“That he doesn’t give up on what he’s doing,” Macedo says. “That he doesn’t give up on his dreams.”

Year started with KUOW: 2006