Born in Guatemala but raised in the United States, Yamilex Rustrian, 20, was thrilled when President Barack Obama gave undocumented children like her a path to avoid deportation.
Rustrian was able to obtain a work permit, get a social security number and drive legally in Los Angeles where she has lived since she was 7.
“I no longer live in the shadows. I no longer have to bow down my head when I walk past the cops,” she said. “I have a sense of security in this country.”
But a measure that could extend the same privileges to parents is stalled. Federal courts have ruled Obama’s executive action on the matter to be an unconstitutional overreach.
Rustrian was among thousands of immigration activists rallying in front of the Supreme Court on Monday as justices heard oral arguments on a case that challenges Obama’s initiative.
Her own parents, she said ruefully, wouldn’t qualify for the deferred deportation. “But then I thought about all the five million other people that were going to have their parents here legally,” she said. “That was just an amazing feeling, too.”
Inside the Supreme Court, justices appeared divided over the case that challenges Obama’s November 2014 announcement that aimed to defer deportation for undocumented immigrants who have children who are U.S. citizens and legal residents under a program called DAPA.
The actions also expanded a similar program, known as DACA, for undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Texas and 25 other states challenging the executive actions say the Obama administration overstepped its authority by granting the undocumented immigrants a legal status that gives them work authorization and other government benefits. A lower court ruling has stopped implementation of the actions that could affect more than 4 million undocumented immigrants.
The administration will need to win over at least one conservative justice on the shorthanded, eight-member court. If the liberal and conservative wings split 4-4 in the case, the tie would leave in place that lower court ruling and prevent implementation of the executive actions.
Advocates nearly filled the entire sidewalk in front of the court while others prompted road closings. Spanish music played as demonstrators chanted and spoke over the microphone in English and Spanish.
Diana Pliego, 21, said she was always aware as an undocumented child growing up in South Carolina that her status meant she couldn’t go to college or get a job.
She said she came the United States from Mexico when she was 3. Her family lived in constant fear of being caught, which made everyone leery about being around police.
That changed when Pliego was able to defer her own deportation.
“I’ve been able to live with a lot less fear for myself and I’ve been able to get jobs that I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to get,” she said.
But her parents continue to worry about deportation. She shows up at rallies, she said, as a way to repay the sacrifices they have made on her behalf.
“I just want to stop seeing them live in fear of the police and planning a grocery trip around when there’s cops around,” Pliego said.
Omar Martinez, 24, who was brought to Chicago from Mexico when he was 3, said his family fears changes to federal policy could send everyone in a different direction.
Each of them has a different status: He and his 23-year-old sister benefited from DACA and his father is a U.S. citizen. His mother, however, remains undocumented as the executive actions make their way in court.
Martinez said he is anxious about the political fallout of the presidential election, especially certain rhetoric that calls for a tougher approach to immigration.
“At any moment, we could be separated,” Martinez said, draped in a flag of Chicago. “It’s scary.”