New Mexico Teacher of the Year Ivonne Orozco accompanied U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich to the State of the Union this week, and some of President Donald Trump’s comments hit close to home for the 26-year-old Mexican immigrant.
Orozco, a Spanish teacher at the Public Academy for Performing Arts, was brought to the United States illegally by her parents at age 12. She benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which the Trump administration plans to phase out March 5.
During Tuesday’s State of the Union, Trump claimed illegal immigrants “have caused the loss of many innocent lives,” citing the 2016 murders of Long Island teenagers Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens by members of MS-13, a gang with Latin American ties.
“Many of these gang members took advantage of glaring loopholes in our laws to enter the country as unaccompanied alien minors – and wound up in Kayla and Nisa’s high school,” the president said.
Orozco said it was upsetting to hear “criminals used to represent the immigrant community.”
“It was really unfortunate that it wasn’t acknowledged that the majority of us, especially when it comes to people who qualify for the Dream Act, we identify ourselves as Americans and have nothing to do with MS-13,” Orozco told the Journal. “We are teachers. We are doctors. We are first responders. We are starting businesses in our communities.”
Still, Orozco is hopeful that Congress will come up with a bipartisan solution to help the nation’s roughly 700,000 DACA recipients.
She met with Heinrich and other lawmakers in Washington, D.C., and felt they were “doing everything they can … to create a pathway to citizenship.”
The trip also connected her to other Dreamers who are sharing their stories.
Orozco said it is important for all of them to continue speaking out and challenging false impressions of immigrants.
“We do go in with this message, and we do go in with a lot of heart to say we are here, we are contributing and all that we want is a seat at the table,” Orozco said.
Heinrich said he was honored to have Orozco as his guest at the State of the Union and give her the opportunity to share her story.
“Dreamers like Ivonne represent the future of a great America,” he said in a statement.
Orozco’s story begins in Chihuahua, Mexico, where she lived until she was 12 years old.
After crossing the border with her parents, Orozco attended middle school and high school in central New Mexico, then went on for her bachelor’s degree in secondary education at the University of New Mexico.
She is currently enrolled in a master’s program at UNM.
New Mexico Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski named her the state’s 2018 teacher of the year in October, citing her commitment to education that “provides students with the tools to create real change in their world.”