As President Obama delivers a defensive State of the Union address, a select group of Americans who are aligned with his agenda will be watching from First Lady Michelle Obama’s box as guests.
This year’s carefully selected guests include a former illegal immigrant, a gay marriage activist, a Syrian refugee, and a Muslim-American.
The Syrian Refugee: Obama sternly warned Americans not to stop the flow of Syrian refugees into the United States, arguing that federal law enforcement screening would keep terrorists out of the United States. Refaai Hamo arrived in the United States from Syria on Dec. 18, 2015 and is now living in Troy, Michigan.
The American Muslim: After the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Obama urged Americans not to blame the Muslim faith for the senseless acts of violence. To enhance that message the First Lady invited Naveed Shah, a U.S. army veteran originally from Saudi Arabia, who joined the armed forces in 2006. “The terrorist attack on September 11, 2001 marked the ultimate distortion of Naveed’s faith – something he set out to combat,” the White House noted.
The DREAMer: To highlight Obama’s call for immigration reform, Oscar Vazquez came illegally to the United States at age 12 and eventually earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University. With assistance from Sen. Dick Durbin, he returned to Mexico and applied for a visa so he could return legally into the country. He also enlisted in the Army, serving one tour in Afghanistan.
The Gay Activist: To celebrate the ruling by the Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage, Michelle Obama will welcome Jim Obergefell – the lead plaintiff in the case Obergefell v. Hodges before the Supreme Court.
The Empty Chair: One seat will be empty, the White House revealed, symbolizing the silenced voice of victims of gun violence.
The Hero: Staff Sergeant Spencer Stone was among the train passengers in Paris as he and his two friends helped take out a terrorist who was preparing an attack. President Obama personally invited them to the White House last year, praising them for their heroism.
The rest: Other guests include a police officer, an Obamacare volunteer, the CEO of Microsoft, some small business owners, and proponents of gun control, drug treatment reform, and criminal justice reform. The first female army reserve officer to graduate Ranger school will also join the first lady.