WASHINGTON, D.C.—Set to a soundtrack of mariachi music and revolutionary chants from Latin America, thousands of mixed-status families and immigration activists from across the country crowded in front of the Supreme Court on Monday to demand an opportunity to live legally in the United States.
Many of those gathered were undocumented immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for years, raised families here, and parented children who are U.S. citizens by birthright. They’re folks who are already an integral part of the U.S. workforce and society, and just want the opportunity to carry on with their lives lawfully and without constant fear of deportation.
For many, DAPA—the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents—is their last best chance at getting the paperwork that Tio Sam requires. But for that to happen, the Supreme Court needs to uphold President Obama’s November 2014 executive action that made DAPA a thing. And Texas and 25 other states are hellbent on stopping that from happening, arguing that Obama overstepped his constitutional authority by trying to unilaterally overhaul immigration policy, which is the role of Congress.
And that, Gentle Reader, brings us back to the steps of the Supreme Court for Monday’s oral arguments in the case known as United States vs. Texas.
Although a decision isn’t expected until the end of June, the mood outside the Court today was one of guarded optimism, mixed with a dose of fatalism. There seems to be a certain sense among the pro-immigrant crowd that the law, justice, and history are all on their side.
The feeling is that this is the new civil rights movement of the 21st century. So get on board, or get out of the way.
“The law is on our side, and justice is on our side. Our case is strong, our cause is right and we are going to prevail at the end,” veteran Supreme Court litigator and immigration ally Andy Pincus said to cheers on the steps of the Court after observing the 90-minute oral arguments on Monday.
Other oldtimers also think the tide of history is on their side.
“America was built on families. If you destroy families, you destroy our country,” said Washington, D.C.’s Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. “We are a country of immigrants. My family came from a different place, your family came from a different place, but we they all came here to do great things.”
But the day was carried by young voices.
The youngest voice of all belonged to Sophie Cruz, the five-year-old girl who caught the world’s attention last September when she got Pope Francis to stop his popemobile so she could give him a crayon drawing and tell him she lives in fear her parents will be deported from the U.S.
Since then, Sophie, now 6, has become the posterchild for DAPA, and the youngest spokeswoman for immigration reform.
“I have the right to protection. I have the right to live with my parents. I have the right to live without fear. I have the right to be happy,” Sophie told the crowd, in English then in Spanish.
Forty feet away from Sophie, a small group of Tea Partiers tried to drown out the immigrant rally with their own speeches, nattering on about somethingorother and then breaking into a sad rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, which was so off-key it bordered on treasonous.
Sophie answered by leading a chant of, “Si, se puede,” —Yes, we can.
Our friend Zaira Garcia also crushed it.
The 23-year-old native Texan who traveled to Washington, D.C., to fight for the right of her parents to live and work legally in the United States delivered a powerful and heartfelt speech on the steps of the Court. She spoke about the looming anxiety of family separation, the humiliation and exploitation that her father has suffered as an undocumented Mexican laborer in the United States, and the fear that her parents could be deported at any moment to war-torn Mexico, where her cousin was recently murdered.
“That’s why I am here—to fight for my family,” Zaira told the crowd of several thousand immigrants and activists gathered outside the Supreme Court. “No child should live with the constant stress of having to lose a parent to deportation, and yet that’s all that my sisters and I have known. It’s time for the Supreme Court to unfreeze DAPA. The stakes are high. I fear for my parents and I hope and pray for the relief that DAPA would yield to my family and the millions trapped in this never-ending cycle of inhuman injustice.”
Afterwards, Zaira told me that she felt emboldened by the energy of a crowd she identifies with.
“I didn’t feel alone up there. I felt supported,” she told me. “When I looked out into the crowd I felt that everyone was there with me, feeling the same thing I felt while I was saying those words.”
Time will determine the historical significance of the today’s rally in front of the Supreme Court, but Zaira says she hopes it will be “a day that is celebrated and a day that my parents were able to see some justice.”