STAMFORD, Conn. -- When President Barack Obama gives his annual State of the Union address, Lucas Codognolla of Stamford will be there as the guest of U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District.
Every member of Congress may take one guest to the Capitol to watch the president’s annual address, which is set for 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Himes selected Codognolla, lead coordinator of Connecticut Students for a DREAM, for his commitment to comprehensive immigration reform and to highlight the contributions that Connecticut’s DREAMers have made.
Connecticut Students for a DREAM seeks to empower undocumented students and their families by advocating for their rights and raising awareness about issues they face.
Codognolla, 23, also has worked as a paralegal for an immigration attorney in Stamford.
He is a native of Brazil who was brought into this country illegally by his parents when he was 9. He didn’t learn of his undocumented status until years later when applying for a driver’s permit.
Himes announced the invitation on Jan. 22 at Neighbor’s Link in Stamford, a nonprofit organization that provides resources for recent immigrants.
“I found out last week when I got a call from a Washington, D.C., phone number and it turned out to be Congressman Himes himself,” Codognolla said. “He said, ‘Lucas, I want to take you as my guest to highlight the need for educational reform.’ I was speechless. The hardest part was keeping it a secret.”
A graduate of Westhill High School in Stamford, Codognolla graduated from Norwalk Community College in 2011. At NCC, he was an honors student and President of the Student World Assembly. He received the college’s Distinguished Student Award in 2011 and was awarded the Olivia Vlahos Transfer Scholarship.
“At NCC I became involved with clubs and organizations and my whole world was opened up to social injustice,” Codognolla recalls. “I learned about human rights and helping others and fighting for social justice. I didn’t think I would become an activist or organizer, as I am now, but the seed really did get planted at NCC.”
After graduating NCC, Codognolla went on to earn a degree in political science at the University of Connecticut at Stamford in 2013.
For the past few years, he has advocated for the DREAM Act “to give undocumented youth that fit criteria some relief from deportation and a work permit” and has helped high school students learn about the educational resources open to them.
Codognolla said that thanks to the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, he can now legally work, get a driver’s license and Social Security number.
“For undocumented students, especially youth, being in a country where the media makes immigration very politicized, it becomes an identity issue,” Codognolla says. “For me, I went through a very difficult time when I found out I was undocumented.”
Click here to see Codognolla speak at TEDxMillRiver.