Locals will be prominent guests at State of the Union — but does it have an impact?

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BATTERY PARK CITY — A shortlist of people from the New York metro area will be in the congressional chamber when President Donald Trump makes his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

They were invited to be there as guests of the president, or other elected officials.

Their presence is meant to shine a light on various priorities and causes that the White House and members of Congress have. Whether or not that highlighting will happen, and whether or not it's being attempted for the reasons elected officials say, are open questions.

At President Trump's invitation, Long Island mother Evelyn Rodriguez will sit in the First Lady's guest box at the address. Rodriguez has been a vocal advocate against gang violence since her daughter, Kayla Cuevas, was killed by MS-13 gang members run 2016, along with Cuevas's best friend, Nisa Mickens.

Cuevas's father, Freddy Cuevas, has also publicly called for law enforcement and legislative action against MS-13 and other gangs. He'll be in attendance at the State of the Union, as well as the parents of Nisa Mickens, Elizabeth Alvarado and Robert Mickens. President Trump has vowed to fight the gang, which has its roots in El Salvador, and has known ties to the illegal drug trade.

Rodriguez, who was already in Washington on Monday, has said that she has no intention of commenting on immigration issues, even though they're part of the MS-13 dilemma.

By contrast, Nelson Melgar is focusing on immigration.

"I sincerely believe people like me have to stand up for our community," Melgar said at a Monday morning news conference. It was one of two, on either side of the Hudson, in which guests of legislators at the State of the Union were introduced.

Melgar is a DACA recipient -- one of more than 700,000 people in the U.S. brought here illegally as children, whose current immigration status is a major source of tension between the president and Congress. Melgar will be the guest of Congressman Tom Suozzi, a Long Island Democrat, at Tuesday night's address.

"I want to bring attention to people like Nelson," said Suozzi at a news conference on Monday, in which he introduced the 24-year-old who'd worked three jobs to put himself through Hunter College, from which he'd graduated with a 3.6 grade point average.

DACA has been a source of contention as the president and Congress try to hammer out a deal regarding it and border security. It is not clear, however, if the president will talk about the subject in his State of the Union address.

One issue that's expected to be discussed is terrorism. A local couple with a personal tie to the issue are Barbara and James Drake. Their son, Darren, of New Milford, New Jersey, was one of eight people killed when an ISIS-inspired terrorist mowed them down with a truck on the West Side bike path last Halloween.

The Drakes' congressman, Josh Gottheimer, announced on Monday that he's introducing legislation that would require terrorist watch-list background checks to be carried out at car rental offices. The Drakes helped him draft the bill, and were with Gottheimer at his Monday announcement.

"It really means a lot, and it's not asking for a lot," said Barbara Drake at the news conference with Gottheimer.

His legislation is brand new, and has yet to be formally introduced or to get co-sponsors. The congressman said that he's nonetheless confident that he'll have enough bi-partisan support for the measure to pass.

However, a seasoned observer of the process is skeptical.

"This is all part of the political game that is played out," said Baruch College political science professor Thomas Halper, in an interview. The author of four books on the American political process has observed and written about more than three dozen State of the Union addresses.

Guests of elected officials can be good, mostly, for them, he told PIX11 News.

"The practical purpose," Halper said about an invitation to attend the State of the Union, "is to enhance the [elected official]... who invites the person there."

Another noteworthy guest in the gallery will be Mayor Carman Yulin Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a prominent foil to the president, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, will be the guest of Democratic New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

President Donald Trump's State of the Union Address will begin at 9 p.m. Tuesday. PIX11 will have full coverage and analysis.

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