Parkland parents, new Venezuelan diplomat, will be among guests at Trump’s State of Union

Fred Guttenberg, father of Jaime Guttenberg, who was killed in the Parkland massacre, holds a photo of Jaime as he listens to questions from reporters in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in March 2018.
Fred Guttenberg, father of Jaime Guttenberg, who was killed in the Parkland massacre, holds a photo of Jaime as he listens to questions from reporters in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in March 2018.

Three Parkland fathers, the Venezuelan U.S. diplomat recently appointed by that country’s opposition leader, and others connected to South Florida will be in the national spotlight Tuesday during President Trump’s State of the Union speech in Washington.

They were among those invited by Florida members of the Senate or House to sit in the House of Representatives chamber to listen to Trump’s address, his second since taking office. Other invited guests include a South Florida Dreamer, a Miami women’s healthcare advocate and the wife of a Coast Guard member affected by the partial government shutdown.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., invited Carlos Vecchio, diplomatic representative of the newly established opposition government of Venezuela.

Vecchio, 49, a Venezuelan lawyer and co-founder of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, fled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s authoritative regime in 2014 and has been living in South Florida in exile. Following the swearing-in of interim President Juan Guaidó, who has become the head of Venezuela’s opposition, the National Assembly last week appointed Vecchio as its U.S. diplomatic representative in Washington.

“For years, Carlos witnessed firsthand the Maduro regime’s repression and egregious human rights abuses,” Rubio said in a statement. “Vecchio has been a tireless advocate for the restoration of democracy and freedom of his beloved homeland... I anticipate President Trump will reemphasize his Administration’s stance against tyrannical leaders in Latin America and in support of the people of Venezuela.”

Venezuelan opposition’s new envoy in Washington, Carlos Vecchio, center, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. Andrew Harnik AP

In addition to Vecchio, Parkland parents, too, will be represented at the speech.

Andrew Pollack, the father of Meadow Pollack, one of the 17 students and faculty members shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, was invited by newly elected Republican Sen. Rick Scott.

Pollack and other Parkland parents lobbied the Legislature to pass the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which became state law after confessed shooter Nikolas Cruz, a former Douglas student, opened fire on students with an AR-15-style assault rifle as classes ended on Valentine’s Day last year.

Pollack has been a staunch advocate of establishing single points of entry with metal detectors at schools and arming staff or other safety specialists on campus. The new law created a three-day waiting period for purchasing firearms and raised the age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 in Florida. It also banned the sale of bump stocks in the state.

”I look forward to working with [Scott] to secure every school in America so no family has to experience the same tragedy as mine,” Pollack said.

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Andrew Pollack and other parents of students killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre called for changes in the Broward school system after the shooting last year on Valentine’s Day, which killed 17 students and faculty members at the Parkland school. Taimy Alvarez Sun Sentinel

Manuel Oliver, father of 17-year-old Joaquin Oliver, one of the students killed in Parkland, will be the guest of Rep. Ted Deutch, the Democrat who represents parts of Broward and Palm Beach counties. Oliver founded an organization called Change The Ref in memory of his son.

“I look forward to listening for and hoping that the president will address the 40,000 gun deaths that steal the lives of so many Americans, including children like my son, Joaquin,” Oliver said. “To date, we are disappointed by the president’s position on ending gun violence and changing the national control of the irresponsible gun culture.”

After comedian Louis C.K. joked about ‘kids getting shot’ at a New York comedy club, a Parkland victim’s father, Manuel Oliver, held his own stand-up. Change the Ref Youtube screengrab

Other Parkland representatives include Fred Guttenberg, father of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, a freshman killed in the Douglas school shooting. Guttenberg will attend as a guest of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California.

Cameron Kasky, a co-founder of the “Never Again” MSD group and Parkland shooting survivor, will attend as a guest of California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell.

Other guests include:

Dreamer and Florida International University student Edwin Herrera. Herrera, U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala’s guest, is protected by former president Obama’s DACA immigration policy, which is slated to expire in less than two years.

“After learning of Edwin’s story and all that he has overcome, I wanted to invite him because his story is what’s hopeful about the American Dream and what’s possible when immigrants are given the opportunity to contribute to their communities and thrive in the workplace or academic setting,” said Shalala, the former University of Miami president elected to the House in November.

Herrera was born in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was 8 years old. Six months after crossing the Texas border, his family started a new life in Miami.

After graduating from John A. Ferguson High School in southwest Miami-Dade in 2011, Herrera couldn’t land a job because of his undocumented status and couldn’t pursue a college degree. It wasn’t until 2014, when then-President Obama announced the DACA program, that Herrera could get a driver’s license and qualify for financial aid.

He graduated from Miami Dade College in 2015 with an associate’s degree and is studying landscape architecture in a joint bachelor’s/master’s degree program at FIU. Herrera renewed his DACA status but will be protected only until October of 2020. The Trump administration tried to shut down DACA in 2017, but the issue is tied up in litigation.

“Not having documentation is always in the back of my mind; it is a lingering thought that I can never seem to shake,” Herrera said, according to TheDream.US, a national scholarship foundation. “This thought, however, also fuels me to push myself to achieve success and pursue my passions, largely by pursuing a higher education.”

Morgan Somma, who will represent “the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who were forced to miss two paychecks due to the government shutdown,” according to U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, who invited Somma.

Somma is the mother of three children and wife of a Coast Guard aviator. She plans to talk about how the 35-day partial government shutdown inflicted “needless pain and chaos on her family,” Schultz said.

Women’s healthcare advocate Michelle Garcia of Miami will be the guest of U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, the newly elected Democratic House member from southwest Miami-Dade.

Garcia has been a vocal critic of Essure, a device that uses tiny coils to block fallopian tubes so women become sterile. Bayer, the company that makes the device, pulled Essure from the U.S. market last year after the FDA received thousands of adverse incident reports and issued a warning about the implant.

Monique O. Madan covers immigration and enterprise; she previously covered breaking news and local government. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and The Dallas Morning News. She is currently a Reveal Fellow at the Center for Investigative Reporting. She graduated from Miami Dade College and Emerson College in Boston. A note to tipsters: If you want to send Monique confidential information, her email and mailbox are open. The address is 3511 NW 91st Ave, Doral, FL 33172. You can also direct message her on social media and she’ll provide encrypted Signal details.