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Guests from Biden's Joint Address assess his progress 1 year later

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The tradition dates back to the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The White House invites everyday Americans to sit with the first lady during the president's State of the Union address. The guests are typically chosen to illustrate how the president's policies will affect the people he governs.

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JILL BIDEN: He knows that these aren't just issues to be debated or polled. They're the challenges that shape your lives, the things that keep you up at night. And he knows that you're counting on him for real solutions and that you can't wait.

SHAPIRO: That's first lady Jill Biden introducing her guests on a call with reporters before last year's joint address to Congress. They attended virtually because of the pandemic. One was Javier Quiroz Castro. He's a DACA recipient who joined the introductory call on his lunch break from work as a nurse at Houston Methodist West Hospital.

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JAVIER QUIROZ CASTRO: It's been - it's been challenging, especially with the previous administration, but DACA has given me all sorts of opportunities. And I hope I can continue being in this country as a productive member of society because there's still a lot of work to do during this pandemic.

SHAPIRO: Another guest at last year's speech was a gun violence prevention advocate from Milwaukee named Tatiana Washington.

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TATIANA WASHINGTON: March 11, 2017, is a day I will never forget. It is a day I lost my Aunt Sherida in a murder-suicide at the hands of her husband. Gun violence does not only affect one person but so many because it has such a ripple effect. It tears families and communities apart.

SHAPIRO: Well, a year later, we wanted to hear their impressions of the Biden presidency, so we've invited Javier Quiroz Castro and Tatiana Washington to join us now. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WASHINGTON: Hi. Thank you so much.

QUIROZ CASTRO: Thank you so much for having me on.

SHAPIRO: So before we turn to your specific policy priorities, how did you feel a year ago when you were asked to be guests of the first lady for this high-profile event?

WASHINGTON: Yeah. You know, for me, it was so surreal. And it was such an honor not only to be able to share my story with the first lady and be able to tell folks about how much of an amazing person my aunt was but also to represent the hundreds and thousands of gun violence prevention advocates and survivors across the country.

SHAPIRO: And Javier?

QUIROZ CASTRO: Yes. I mean, it felt incredible. It's not every day that you get a phone call from the White House, you know, being invited to these type of things, especially the reason as to why you're invited. You know, you're representing immigrants, you're representing DACA recipients. And it's a - it was a really incredible feeling to be recognized and to be part of that - you know, incredible.

SHAPIRO: And in the year since, how have your feelings changed?

WASHINGTON: For me, honestly, it's been really disappointing. During the campaign, we're promised that we'd have action on gun violence prevention. And, you know, unfortunately, 47,000 people have died to gun violence since the president has been in office, and we haven't seen any action. So it's very disappointing.

SHAPIRO: You say we haven't seen any action. Are there specific missed opportunities that you would point to?

WASHINGTON: Yeah. So one thing that he can do right now that he doesn't need Congress approval for is to appoint a gun violence prevention director. And another thing that he promised while he was campaigning for president was to repeal PLCAA, which would open up some accountability for gun manufacturers the same way that we do for any other business. And he hasn't done so yet.

SHAPIRO: All right. So some disappointment there from Tatiana. Javier, how about you? How are you feeling a year later?

QUIROZ CASTRO: Yeah. I think I have to agree with Tatiana. I'm a little disappointed, and it's unfortunate because it was a huge feeling of relief to have a different kind of administration, not one that, you know, put a target on my back. So it felt like at least I didn't have that pressure and that stress. But here we are a year later.

SHAPIRO: When you say pressure and stress, you mean fear of deportation under the Trump administration.

QUIROZ CASTRO: Yeah, absolutely, fear of deportation. You know, they attempted multiple times to dismantle the DACA program. And, you know, at the time, you know, here I am stepping up to the plate to take care of COVID-19 patients and putting my family and my health at risk and trying to benefit the community. And, you know, it was definitely the - some of the hardest years of my entire life. So it felt, you know, relieving to hear a president promising to, you know, step in and potentially give us some type of permanent legislation to protect DACA recipients and, you know, many undocumented immigrants that contribute to the economy and to the communities. But, you know, so far, we're a year in and no permanent legislation has been able to be passed. And there is definitely a lot of work to be done there, for sure.

SHAPIRO: Let me ask you both. There is so much going on right now. The administration is consumed with the war in Ukraine, inflation and other priorities. Do you both feel like your key issues - gun violence and immigration - are still on the front burner for President Biden?

WASHINGTON: Personally, I don't. He's had, you know, over a year to act. And ultimately, he's responsible. Forty-seven thousand people have lost their lives to guns while he's been in administration. That is not OK. That it's not excusable. More and more folks are losing loved ones to gun violence. And, you know, he spoke to survivors and said that he was going to act on this issue. And we have yet to see a comprehensive plan. And when I say comprehensive, I mean something that's not punitive and doesn't rely on criminalization of folks and that really promotes community healing.

SHAPIRO: And Javier.

QUIROZ CASTRO: Absolutely not. Definitely immigration has taken the back burner, but it's been on the back burner for a very long time. And you have to ask yourselves, like, at what point - you need to bring that issue from the back burner to the front because it's been there for so long. DACA was announced in 2012, and here we are 2022 and nothing has been done. You know, here we are. Time is ticking. Time is of the essence. You know, people are still trying to come into this country for a better life. People have been in the country for decades contributing. And it's time that, you know, we get something in return.

SHAPIRO: OK. So I want to ask how you're feeling about the upcoming midterms because while I hear your frustration with the president and his policies, his lack of action, if the historical trend lines hold, Republicans are likely to regain control of Congress in November's elections, and that party is less friendly to gun violence prevention, to citizenship for immigrants. How are you feeling about that?

WASHINGTON: I am very worried. The president made a promise for immediate action on gun violence during his campaign, and that didn't happen. And I'm worried that folks are losing hope in the administration and electoral politics and simply aren't going to go out to vote.

SHAPIRO: Are you losing confidence? Are you losing faith in the process and the political system?

WASHINGTON: You know, what gives me hope is six years ago, there would never be conversations that we're having now on gun violence prevention. There wouldn't be so many champions in the House and the Senate, and that's what keeps me going.

SHAPIRO: What are each of you going to be listening for during the speech?

WASHINGTON: I need President Biden to address gun violence, and I want him to declare this a national emergency because it is.

SHAPIRO: Javier, what are you going to be listening for in the State of the Union address?

QUIROZ CASTRO: I'm going to be listening for some type of plan or message that continues to highlight the importance of immigrants and where we are because I at least need to hear that our leader has not forgotten about us because we're still out here benefitting in this country and still have not had anything in return.

SHAPIRO: That's Javier Quiroz Castro, a DACA recipient and nurse at Houston Methodist West Hospital, and also Tatiana Washington, a gun violence prevention advocate in Milwaukee and former policy associate with March for Our Lives. Thank you both for speaking with us today.

WASHINGTON: Thank you so much.

QUIROZ CASTRO: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.