Maria evacuees, Pulse first responder attending Trump's first State of the Union

Florida representatives bring families from Puerto Rico, OPD officer as guests

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

ORLANDO, Fla. - Orlando area U.S. representatives will bring Puerto Rican families and students displaced by Hurricane Maria and the first officer at the Pulse nightclub shooting to President Donald Trump's first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Florida) has invited Emmanuel Ortiz-Nazario, 30, his wife and their two children, 10 and 4, to attend the address. The family relocated to Central Florida from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. They have been living in a hotel in Orlando since arriving in Florida, but will soon move into an apartment, Murphy said.

Murphy said in a news release that she invited the Ortiz family to highlight the education, health and housing challenges facing displaced families.

“It is honor for my family and me to represent our beautiful people," Ortiz-Nazario said. "It is a unique opportunity in life and I will give 110 percent effort to show the world that Puerto Ricans are people that, no matter how difficult the situation, keep moving forward -- and that we know how to survive and to adjust to any change."

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LEFT: Emmanuel Ortiz-Nazario, 30, his wife and their two children, 10 and 4. RIGHT: Claudia Sofía Báez Solá and her family in Puerto Rico.

Father José Rodriguez, of Jesús de Nazaret (Jesus of Nazareth) Episcopal Church in Orlando, who has been providing assistance to displaced families from Puerto Rico, will also attend.

Orlando police officer Adam Gruler will attend the State of the Union with Rep. Val Demings (D-Florida). Gruler was working security at Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016, when a lone gunman opened fire killing 49 people and injuring more than 50 others.

Gruler and his wife, Jaimi Gruler, recently adopted three young children adding to their family of eight.

"Like so many others in our community, Adam and Jaimi prove that in the end, love triumphs over hate," Demings said.

Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida) has invited 18-year-old Claudia Sofía Báez Solá, a Puerto Rican who moved to Orlando after Hurricane Maria in October. She was able to enroll at Valencia College thanks to in-state tuition granted to Puerto Rican evacuees in Florida.

Claudia's parents are still in Caguas, Puerto Rico, without power and limited water access, according to Soto's office.

"I bring her as my guest not only because she is inspiring, but also as a reminder that we still have work to do," Soto said in a news release. "In Central Florida, we must address the housing, educational, and employment challenges recently arrived Puerto Ricans and Floridians face. At the federal level, Congress must approve additional disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico, Florida, and other affected regions. We must work on rebuilding power grids, getting electricity back on the island, and finally bring normalcy back to the lives of 3.3 million Americans in Puerto Rico.”

Lawmakers often bring select guests to the annual address to make political statements. This year, Democratic women are expected to wear black in solidarity with the #METoo and Time's Up movements, protesting sexual harassment and demanding equal pay.

Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts) has invited a transgender soldier, Staff Sgt. Patricia King, to be his guest to the address as a protest to the transgender military ban the Trump administration has put in place, Kennedy's spokesman confirmed. 

Kennedy will deliver the Democratic response after Trump’s address. Virginia state House Delegate Elizabeth Guzman will also deliver a response in Spanish.

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