Alan Aleman, face of Obama’s immigration reform effort, gets State of Union invite

Liz Goodwin
The Ticket

Alan Aleman has had a whirlwind few weeks.

Late last month, President Barack Obama told Aleman's life story in his speech urging Congress to pass an immigration reform bill. Then, just last week, Aleman got a call from the White House inviting him to be one of first lady Michelle Obama's guests at the State of the Union Tuesday night.

"They asked me if I wanted to go. I was like, 'Yeah!'" he said, laughing. "It’s a huge opportunity."

Aleman, 20, is one of three young people attending the State of the Union brought to the country illegally by their parents as children. Two others, Julieta Garibay and Gabino Sanchez, were invited by Democratic lawmakers.

Aleman, a biology student at the College of Southern Nevada, was one of the first people in the country to receive deferred action. That program, announced by Obama last summer, gives young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children relief from deportation and a two-year work permit.

Ahead of the president's speech urging immigration reform, the Obama administration asked local immigrants rights groups in Las Vegas to nominate a deferred-action recipient to be featured in the speech. The groups picked Aleman, who found out just a few days before the speech that he would star in it. Obama talked about Aleman's desire to join the Air Force and become a doctor to remind the audience that immigration reform affects people, not just laws. "All he wants is the opportunity to do his part to build a better America," Obama said of Aleman.

After the speech, Aleman shook the president's hand.

"I said, 'Thank you for getting the work permit.' He said, 'Keep [up] the hard work,'" Aleman said.

Aleman applied for deferred action the first day the application process opened in the fall. "[I'd] been waiting for this for nine years," he said. "I always lived with the fear of deportation."

His mother and father, who now work, respectively, as a housekeeper and a carpenter, brought him and his sister to Las Vegas illegally when he was 11 years old. They'll be watching the State of the Union from Las Vegas.

"They’re proud of me," Aleman said. "They’re very happy. They never imagined that I would be in D.C. today or that I would be named by the president."

Young undocumented people—often referred to as "Dreamers" after the name of a bill that would have given them citizenship—have become among the most vocal and effective activists for immigration reform. Pro-reform politicians are quick to draw attention to their plight; Obama has said they're Americans "in every single way but one: on paper," and that they had no say in their parents' decision to take them to America.

"I think that’s the main reason why they’re bringing more attention to the Dreamers, because we came here and we had no choice," Aleman said. "But in reality, thanks to our parents we’re here and our parents are contributing to this country as well. And they deserve an opportunity to have legal status, too."

Aleman said he's still getting used to being a poster boy of sorts for Obama's immigration reform effort. On Tuesday, he met with Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller and staff members for Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

"I feel honored," Aleman said. "At the same time, it’s [a lot of] responsibility because everybody’s looking at you and saying if you make a tiny mistake everybody’s going to look bad."