The United States Supreme Court is holding a hearing on Monday in the case of the United States versus Texas, a legal dispute that will solve two key immigration issues: whether or not to halt the deportations of about 5 million undocumented immigrants and if they should be granted a temporary work permit.
The plaintiffs insist that legislation can only be changed by Congress, and reiterate that President Barack Obama abused his executive power because he amended immigration law without the consent of Congress.
"We hope that justice prevails over the politics of hate and that the DACA and DAPA programs can finally be unblocked," said Kica Matos, executive director of the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM).
To press for a favorable ruling - expected in June - local and national organizations, including FIRM, are hoping to gather about 4,000 people Monday in front of the Supreme Court building in Washington, "where we will tell stories of immigrants who qualify for the executive action and reflect the identity of the United States", said Matos.
Many affected immigrant families from around the country traveled by bus to join protests outside the Supreme Court.
The benefits: The executive action on immigration was announced by Obama on November 20, 2014, a year and a half after the debate on immigration reform was stalled in the House of Representatives following the approval of the Senate of bill S.744. Among other benefits, the bill would stop the deportation of young undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children (so-called Dreamers) who are protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA).
Both groups must have no criminal record and show that they have been in the country prior to January 1, 2014.
The legal battle: Obama's implemented the programs via executive action in Nov 2014 but they failed to take effect as planned on February 18 of last year. Two days before they were due to go into effect a district court in Texas ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed on December 3, 2014 by a group of 26 states (24 of them governed by Republicans), who argued that Obama abused his executive power and that the measure violates the Constitution.
Unable to make the Texas court reverse the ruling, the government went to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in March 2014 which ratified the Texas ruling on November 9.
On November 20, a year after the announcement of the executive action, the Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to review the measure.
In January, the court included a request on its agenda of 2016 and set a hearing for April 18, when government lawyers as well as the attorneys for the 26 states will present their arguments.
What is expected: "This Monday’s oral arguments are important for several reasons," said Stephen Yale-Loehr, a law professor at Cornell University in New York. "First, they can provide clues to how the Supreme Court will rule in late June on the legality of the executive action to protect nearly 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation."
Second, he added, "they could indicate how judges feel about executive actions in general."
Yale-Loehr said the decision of the judges "could redefine the balance of power between Congress and the President," and warned that, in general, "the courts have given the executive branch ample freedom in implementing immigration policy."
"The question here is whether the president surpassed the vast executive power he has to not keep delaying the deportations of several million undocumented immigrants and also grant them work permits," he said. "I doubt that the Supreme Court will express its opinion on the general authority of the actions of the executive branch and the balance of power between the President and Congress."
He added that "people involved in other disputes which are part of other executive actions such as gun control or environmental policy will certainly review the oral arguments in the case of the United States v. Texas to try to determine how the legal challenges in these areas may influence the decision of the Court."
Stories of immigrants: The pro-immigrant organizations are convinced that the hearing convened by the Supreme Court has two scenarios: inside and outside the historic building.
"Inside, lawyers will present their arguments, but outside there will be some 4,000 immigrants telling their stories to the press," Matos said. "We are confident that at the end of the day the court will rule in favor of the legitimate right of the president to take executive action to set priorities in the application of immigration laws. We know that DAPA and DACA are on the right side of justice."
The activist also said that "blocking the initiatives would send a message of hate to all Americans and to the children born here of immigrant parents who are vulnerable of being deported. We cannot betray the values of compassion and justice in which our country is based."
"Thawing out DAPA and expanding DACA will strengthen our communities, protect the dignity of families, create jobs, increase the average wages of workers born in the United States and help grow our economy," he said.
The Republican position: Congressional Republicans put forward the same arguments of that of the states blocking the executive action. In mid-March, the House of Representatives approved resolution 639 (by 234 votes in favor and 186 against) rejecting the executive action.
According to the house Speaker, Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin); "the abuse of executive powers by the president in regard to immigration (...) has created a fourth branch of government that operates with little or no transparency, and undermines Congress, the closest governing body to the people."
He also announced that he would send the resolution to the court to support (as Amicus Curiare) the case of the 26 states despite the rejection of Democrats.
Democrats responded with a similar document signed by 225 legislators, including senators and representatives.
The White House said the Republican resolution was an "empty gesture against common sense policies announced by the president that will make our country safer, strengthen our economy and are overwhelmingly supported by the American people."
The other battle: The final decision of the Court will happen in the summer, probably in June. "We hope that the lawyers of the Justice Department submit substantial arguments to make clear that President Obama used his executive power appropriately and that the measure does not violate the Constitution," said the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), Jorge-Mario Cabrera.
The activist added that "the complaint presented by the 26 states hides a huge reality, the hundreds of thousands of families that need to emerge from the shadows with a temporary decision like the executive action ... after the Court’s decision we will continue battling for a final settlement, which is immigration reform."
In Chicago, Illinois, they have the same concerns. "The fight does not end on the 18th in Washington, nor in the summer. The struggle continues after November until we have immigration reform," said Salina Villanueva, organizer of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR).
"For this," he added, "we need our voices to be heard, to participate, and in November we need to get out to vote and choose Obama's successor and a new Congress. We have stories to tell, but we also have to cast our votes at the polls and demand a government that welcomes immigrants and does not speak to them with hate. "
Immigration reform cited by activists remains stalled in the House of Representatives since June 27, 2013, when the Senate passed the S.744 bill.
"We look forward to a favorable ruling from the Supreme Court," stated Francisco Moreno, executive director of the Federation of Mexican Confederations of Los Angeles, California. "And we are confident that our struggle for immigration reform is still standing, it is not dead".
While the group asked to assemble in front of the Supreme Court building is convening Monday, at least 27 states with high concentrations of Hispanics will be holding vigils at the same time.
"In Seattle we will meet in front of the Northwest Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center," said Maru Mora, director of Latino Advocacy. "Thousands of immigrant prisoners also qualify for DACA and DAPA. We speak for them," he said.
"Win or lose," said unionist Eliseo Medina, “we’ll make sure that the November presidential election results in a strong mandate for comprehensive immigration reform.”