First lady hosts gay, wounded warrior, illegal student
An undocumented immigrant, a gay federal employee, victims of gun violence and Apple's chief executive will sit Tuesday with the first lady when President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech.
Michelle Obama will also be joined by wounded warriors, teenage science wizards and health advocates, a female combat veteran and a NASA specialist whose mohawk earned him international fame last year, the White House said.
The president gives a speech to a joint session of Congress each year, and the careful choice of guests often reflects the issues the commander-in-chief intends to highlight in his address.
Among the key guests in the Obama box will be college student Alan Aleman who was born in Mexico, and whose status as an illegal immigrant points to what may be the chief political issue of the year: what to do about 11 million estimated undocumented migrants in the country.
Obama, as well as a bipartisan group of US senators, have unveiled proposals that include a pathway to eventual citizenship for most of the millions who entered the country without permission, or overstayed their visas.
Joining Aleman will be fellow Latino Carlos Evans, a US Marine Corps sergeant from Puerto Rico who lost his legs and his left hand to injuries sustained in Afghanistan. Michelle Obama has been active in programs helping war veterans returning to the United States.
While the president is expected to announce he will pull 34,000 US troops home from Afghanistan in the next year, Evans's presence is a reminder of the perils that US soldiers still face in a country that Washington has spent more than a decade trying to stabilize.
The first lady visited Chicago last week to attend the funeral of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton, who was caught in a gang crossfire just days after performing as a high school band majorette at Obama's inauguration. Hadiya's parents will join Obama for the speech.
Also invited by Michelle Obama is Kaitlin Roig, a first grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman massacred 20 children and six adults in December.
Dozens of lawmakers this year chose to invite victims of gun violence to Obama's speech as well.
Sitting in the first lady's box alongside Apple's Tim Cook, one of the best-paid chief executives in the world, will be small business owners and laborers, as well as Tracey Hepner, a co-founder of the Military Partners and Families Coalition.
Hepner, who works for the Department of Homeland Security, is married to the first openly gay or lesbian general officer in the military.
The Pentagon officially extended some military benefits to same-sex partners Monday.
And in a shout out to science lovers, Obama also invited Bobak Ferdowsi, flight director of the Mars Curiosity Rover who became known as "Mohawk Guy" last year during NASA's coverage of the module landing on the red planet.