NEW ORLEANS, LA — Immigrant advocates gathered for a vigil on the steps of the federal courthouse in New Orleans on Thursday night, just one day before judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard arguments on whether to let President Obama’s executive action to shield upwards of five million undocumented immigrants from deportation take effect. A preliminary injunction was put in place in February by a federal judge, effectively blocking the deportation relief from taking place.
At least 600 protesters from 21 states marched on Friday, many lining up early to get inside the courtroom for the oral arguments on whether the judge’s block should continue. Others were outside chanting “Si se puede!” and “DAPA si, deportación no.” They also carried signs with messages like “Families fight back to restore relief.” A few arrests were made after more than a dozen undocumented immigrants blocked the road outside the federal New Orleans Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office to call on an end to deportations, the immigrant advocacy group Not One More Deportation stated in a press release.
At least 3.5 million parents would have been granted relief under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program. The executive action also expanded on the president’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, granting relief to undocumented immigrants who came in as children.
Lawmakers like Reps. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) were in attendance outside the courthouse, along with immigrant rights advocates, who hope that the judges allow the programs to take effect. If the court rules against them, millions of families could be separated.
Astrid Silva, a 27-year-old undocumented immigrant from Nevada, traveled to the courthouse to represent her state and the immigrant advocacy group Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN). While Silva herself qualified for a temporary work permit under the DREAM Act, she told ThinkProgress that the future of both of her parents’ and her brother’s lives in the U.S. depend on the court’s impending ruling.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life for them to not be afraid to live here and that moment was finally close,” she said. “But thanks to political pawn playing, my parents are still living in fear of deportation.”
During his speech outlining his executive action last November, the president mentioned Silva’s name before touting that his actions could shield people like her father from deportation.
Silva said it was important for her to be in New Orleans to represent the states like Nevada that have signed onto the lawsuit, but whose immigrant population would be at risk of deportation if the ruling comes down in favor of the states. In Nevada alone, 69,000 families would be affected by a negative decision, Silva said.
People don’t realize that we’re families. We’re not the horrible monsters that they portray us to be.
“People don’t realize that we’re families,” she said. “We’re not the horrible monsters that they portray us to be.”
Also present at the prayer vigil was Austin, Texas-resident Javier Bautista, who came to New Orleans with the Workers Defense Project, an advocacy group that works with low-income workers. Although he didn’t personally benefit from DAPA or DACA, he said he was there to support his friends who qualified for the president’s executive action.
“We’re here in New Orleans tonight because we want justice,” he told ThinkProgress in Spanish. “There are people who serve food, who construct houses, who repair homes and who care for your gardens and they still don’t have support. The government thinks they’re bad people.”
Bautista works in construction and paints homes and said he and many other low-wage workers are treated like trash.
***Late last year, 26 states challenged the president’s 2014 executive action that in part aimed to extend work authorization and deportation protection to about five million undocumented immigrants, including parents of legal U.S. residents or citizens.
The states argued that the president had overstepped his constitutional authority, and claimed the programs would put a burden on states’ health care and add costs related to driver’s licenses for people. The federal judge sided with the states in February, putting a temporary halt to the programs while the court considers the lawsuit.
Most of the people who were present in the courthouse on Friday expect an unfavorable ruling; at least two of the Fifth Circuit’s three-judge panel are Republican-appointed judges who rejected an earlier emergency request in May to lift a hold on the president’s executive action. Circuit court Judges Jerry Smith and Jennifer Elrod sided with the states. The judges wrote at the time, “Because the government is unlikely to succeed on the merits of its appeal of the injunction, we deny the motion for stay and the request to narrow the scope of the injunction.”
The implementation of the DAPA program could boost the American economy in ways that could have a ripple effect on all Americans. According to a recent Center for American Progress report, “DAPA would result in a cumulative gross domestic product, or GDP, increase of $164 billion, an $88 billion increase in incomes for all Americans, and create 20,538 jobs per year over the next 10 years. Moreover, DAPA would result in payroll tax increases of $16.7 billion over five years.”
Most advocates expect that the case will wind up at the Supreme Court, but likely not before the end of Obama’s presidency.
Silva said that even if the families do not prevail in Fifth Circuit, this isn’t the end of the road. “This was temporary,” she said. “If it goes to the Supreme Court, we’ll be there fighting it. But I also know that I’m still fighting for comprehensive immigration reform. Had congress solved that, there wouldn’t be a need to go through all of these hurdles and so that’s my ultimate goal.”