On November 12, 2019, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments concerning the possible end of DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The University of Baltimore School of Law’s Immigrant Rights Clinic students and faculty traveled to the Supreme Court to participate in a rally supporting DACA and other forms of immigration protection. This account was written by students Joanna Choi, Megan Connolly, Emma Dorris, Daniyal Husain, Magdala Norton, Georges Tchamdjou and Kevin Zelaya, with contributions from Prof. Elizabeth Keyes. Clinical Teaching Fellow Nickole Miller also accompanied the group.
After spending much of the semester immersed in immigration court litigation for specific clients, this trip was a culmination of a unit on creative advocacy, where the students considered and developed strategies beyond their individual client cases to think about the issues that affect our clients.
Background: What is DACA?
Students and faculty from the UB Immigrant Rights Clinic traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Nov. 12 arguments on DACA before the Supreme Court.
DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is a form of administrative protection whose purpose is to protect eligible immigrants who came to the United States when they were children from deportation. Although DACA does not provide official legal status or a pathway to citizenship to these individuals, it does allow them to be “lawfully present” without the threat of deportation and apply for driver’s licenses and work permits. Currently, around 750,000 young adults in the United States benefit from the DACA program.
In 2012, President Obama issued the DACA executive order as a response to Congress’ failure to provide any relief for immigrant youth. On September 5, 2017, Attorney General Sessions stated that the Trump administration was ending the DACA program. This decision meant that over time, 750,000 young adults brought to the U.S. as children who qualify for the program, would become eligible for deportation and lose access to affordable education and work permits.
Attorney General Sessions asserted that “the executive branch, through DACA, deliberately sought to achieve what the legislative branch specifically refused to authorize on multiple occasions. Such an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws was an unconstitutional exercise of authority by the Executive Branch.”
After the Trump administration ordered an end to DACA in 2017, plaintiffs across the country filed several lawsuits against the termination of DACA. Federal appellate courts have ruled against the administration, allowing previous DACA recipients to renew their deferred action, and the Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the legal challenges.
The Day of the Oral Arguments
The day of arguments arrived, with gray clouds covering the sky in Washington, D.C., making for an ominous background. While the attorneys for each side were delivering oral arguments to the justices, crowds of people gathered outside in raincoats and huddled under umbrellas before the Supreme Court. People of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds gathered from all over the United States, including California, New York, and Texas. Some walked 250 miles as a demonstration of their support of immigrant rights. Strangers joined together in carrying signs and cheering in one voice, in protest of the elimination of DACA. The scale and magnitude of the protest was evident.
The energy of the rally was infectious. Even in the rain and the cold, groups of high school students stood outside playing the drums, saxophone and tuba. Senators and Representatives from various states came to support the rally, while journalists and the media attempted to capture the energy of the crowd. News reports stated that there were likely several thousand people present, including Dreamers, immigration lawyers, law students and ordinary Americans who believe Dreamers should be protected. The large crowds required the assistance of Capitol police and Secret Service agents to ensure that people were safely exercising their First Amendment rights.
Speakers shared their personal stories and experiences about growing up in the United States without status. They described the sacrifices of their parents who worked long, arduous hours so that their children can achieve the “American Dream.” DACA enabled such dreams to become a reality. Speakers galvanized the crowd by sharing their personal stories. One speaker shared how his dream of becoming a Harvard-educated doctor materialized because of DACA. Speakers also shared how DACA allowed them to enjoy simple benefits often taken for granted, such as bank accounts, driver’s licenses, and Social Security numbers.
Rallies as Creative Lawyering
A rally like this provides a tool for change. It brings together people with similar aspirations, and is a way to have people’s voices heard. The more voices can be heard, including the voice of the legal community, the more they can have an impact on changes in the law. The individuals affected by the DACA program, along with their families, were all motivated to share their stories, not be afraid of who they were or how they entered the U.S., or where they are from. They shared the same values, a common past and a common path to becoming documented immigrants.
The rally was not solely limited to actual DACA recipients; it was open to anyone who believes in the purpose of DACA, in Dreamers, and in their right to remain in the United States. Lawyers had center stage inside the court, but outside the court, it was the community members and organizers across the nation whose voices mattered, and we—future attorneys—were there in support of them.
A goal of the Immigrant Rights Clinic is for us to understand the legal principles governing immigration laws, and to be able to zealously advocate through creative lawyering within the limits of legal standards. Simply put, as attorneys, we must sometime think outside of the box. Similarly, rallying serves the purpose of justice by aiming for social change. Rallying for a position you stand on is a tool that can bring forth change in a system that appears to disfavor the disadvantaged.
Even when we left the protest and were walking back to the train station, we saw more Dreamers who continued to pour out of Union Station making their way to the protest. It was incredibly powerful to see these Dreamers unite people across the nation to advocate that Dreamers too, despite legal status, are Americans at heart. We were inspired to be a small part of a massive national movement that is insisting that we have a new conversation about who belongs in America. As sign after sign that day said, for the Dreamers and their families, Home Is Here.