A newly arrived Syrian refugee and a Muslim former U.S. soldier will be among the White House invitees sitting with first lady Michelle Obama in her box Tuesday at President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address.
A first lady’s choice of guests to the closely watched address often underlines the president’s priorities, and this year is no different.
At Michelle Obama’s side will be Naveed Shah, a Muslim and former U.S. soldier, who was a child when his parents immigrated to the country from Pakistan. Shah joined the army in 2006 and served in Iraq.
The Obama administration has also invited Refaai Hamo of Troy, Michigan, to exemplify the refugees’ plight. Hamo, arrived in Detroit on December 18 with his surviving children, three daughters and a son, after spending two years in Turkey.
The White House said a missile tore through the complex Hamo designed in which his family lived in Syria. Seven family members died in the blast.
In Turkey, Hamo was diagnosed with stomach cancer. After being granted refugee status in the United States, he and his children are trying to build a new life in Troy, Michigan, a Detroit suburb.
The symbolism of these guests is unmistakable at a time when Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates have upped their criticism of accepting more Syrian refugees under the current vetting process.
Several veterans, the governor of Connecticut and Microsoft’s chief executive will be among the other guests. One seat representing victims of gun violence will be vacant.