WASHINGTON -- Alan Aleman is a 20-year-old undocumented immigrant who lives in Las Vegas and works at an immigrant rights group. On Tuesday, he became a national example of the need for immigration reform when President Barack Obama devoted a large chunk of a major speech to talking about Aleman's life.
"It was amazing," Aleman said afterward. "It was unexplainable."
Aleman said he found out two days before the Tuesday speech that the White House was considering using his story in Obama's first major address on immigration reform since beginning his second term. Immigrant rights groups were asked by the administration to nominate a young undocumented immigrant -- a Dreamer, as they call themselves -- whose story could be told as an example of the wider struggles facing the group.
Aleman fits the bill of a model Dreamer: He applied on day one for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and is now allowed to remain in the country for the next two years. He works for Hermandad Mexicana, a non-profit group based in Las Vegas that provides immigration services.
Obama told more of Aleman's story during the speech. "He was brought to this country by his parents when he was a child. Growing up, Alan went to an American school, pledged allegiance to the American flag, felt American in every way -- and he was -- except for one, on paper," Obama began, going on to describe Aleman's high school experience and career aspirations.
In a call to action on reform, Obama referred to Aleman again. "In the coming weeks, as the idea of reform becomes more real and the debate becomes more heated, and there are folks who are trying to pull this thing apart, remember Alan and all those who share the same hopes and the same dreams," he said. "Remember that this is not just a debate about policy. It’s about people."
Aleman met Obama only briefly in a rope line after the event. He shook the president's hand and thanked him for the work permit he received under deferred action, and Obama told him to "keep it up," Aleman said.
He's hoping his story will help other Dreamers see that it's worth applying for deferred action, and that he can have a positive impact on the immigration reform debate.
"I think I can try to bring the Hispanic community together so we can push Congress for immigration reform," he said.
Aleman added he thought the rest of Obama's speech was good, but more details are needed.
"We need to know what is going to happen," he said. "Is he going to stop deportations during this debate? Is he going to do something? That's what we need to know."