Waving American flags and holding up signs that read “Defend DACA” and “Make SCOTUS great again,” hundreds of young immigrants, activists and their supporters demonstrated Tuesday outside the Supreme Court steps as justices inside heard arguments regarding the future of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Just a few blocks away at the Capitol, meanwhile, congressional Democrats urged Senate leadership to take up House-passed legislation that would ensure protections for this population.
“We want you to know that you’re not the only ones being Dreamers. We have dreams for you as well — and we fully intend to act upon them,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a press conference that ended with lawmakers marching toward the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The day started earlier with crowds outside the Supreme Court braving rain and chilly temperatures to support DACA, the Obama-era program that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain and work legally. The Trump administration has tried to end the program, arguing that the Obama administration never had the authority to create it.
“It’s very personal to me, and I felt like I needed to skip school to be here, not just for myself, but for my family that can’t be here because they’re in Texas — and also just for my future kids,” said Andrea Rodríguez Burckhardt, a law student at American University and one of more than 660,880 so-called “Dreamers” with DACA protections.
Burckhardt, 25, was born in Colombia but she remains hopeful that Dreamers will continue to be shielded from deportation.
“Whatever happens, we are such a resilient group,” she said.
The crowd reflecting numerous nationalities, racial backgrounds and ages huddled together and cheered on the Dreamers and immigrant activists who gave emotional testimonies at a microphone before the Supreme Court steps.
As case plaintiffs and lawyers emerged following their arguments, many chanted along with the crowd, “Home is Here,” as they made their way to the gathering.
“DACA has opened so many opportunities for me and allowed me to have the ability to pursue my ambitions,” Martín Batalla Vidal, a lead plaintiff in the case now pursuing a college degree. “I hope the justices will not only think about the law, but about the real-world consequences for me and other DACA recipients, family, and this country if DACA is terminated.”
Lawyers representing the plaintiffs encouraged the crowds with their optimism about the outcome of the case.
“We know that we’re on the right side of the law — we know that we’re on the right side of history,” said Marielena Hincapié, the executive director of National Immigrant Law Center and co-counsel in the case.
The Supreme Court agreed to take up DACA after the White House decided to end the program in 2017. However, the effort was thwarted by multiple federal judges in rulings the administration ultimately appealed to the nation’s high court. While President Donald Trump has previously expressed sympathy for Dreamers, on Tuesday he tweeted out less favorable comments, claiming that DACA recipients are “very tough” and “hardened criminals” — even though having a criminal record can render applicants ineligible for DACA benefits.
“President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” Trump tweeted.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Richard J. Durbin, who sponsored the original bill to help the Dreamer population back in 2001, responded to Trump’s allegations at a press conference in the U.S Capitol hours later.
“I know that none of us are young anymore,” he said, “and who among us can claim to be an angel?”
But turning to the Dreamers lined up behind him, Durbin added that he saw something different in their faces.
“I see courage, I see hope, I see the future of the United States of America,” he said.
The House legislation being pushed by Durbin and Pelosi would grant a pathway to citizenship for up to 2.5 million undocumented immigrants, including Dreamers. Durbin later requested unanimous consent for the bill to be considered and passed on the Senate floor. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., objected.
Pelosi said support for Dreamers has been bipartisan.
“This is an important day and we hope and pray that the courts will do the right thing — the all American thing,” she said.