Immigrants descend on Supreme Court to back Obama’s executive order

WASHINGTON – Friday, the Administration asked the Supreme Court to re-affirm the President’s right to issue an executive order that protects over five million undocumented persons who have children born in the U.S.

At the same time, some 1,000 immigrants and their allies rallied at the Supreme Court building to support the President.

“We would have never gotten the executive order in the first place,” Gustavo Torres told the crowd, “if we hadn’t held demonstrations and civil disobedience actions and if we hadn’t voted in elections.” Torres is the executive director of Casa, an organization that advocates for immigrants in three states.

The crowd roared si, se puede, “yes we can!”

If implemented, the executive order, issued by President Obama a year ago, would prevent families from being broken up. Among other provisions, it grants residency status and benefits such as Social Security to undocumented parents of children born in the U.S. The parents must have lived here for at least five years and have no criminal record.

Although presidents have been taking executive action on immigration since the Eisenhower administration, and although mayors of 33 U.S. cities filed court briefs supporting Obama’s order, the governors of 26 states, mostly Republicans, last November asked a federal judge based in Texas to issue an injunction blocking the order from implementation. The judge did so.

The 26 states are the same ones that recently passed voter suppression laws. They each have very small numbers of immigrants. On the other hand, the cities who back Obama’s order have disproportionately large numbers of immigrants.

The Administration appealed to the Fifth Circuit court in New Orleans to reverse the decision of the judge in Texas. Two of the three members of the Fifth Circuit court were appointed by George W. Bush. Unsurprising, November 9, the Court ruled two to one to block Obama’s order from being put into effect.

“We are not ‘illegals.'”

The rally at the Supreme Court was one of two held here in Washington Friday. Participants in the other demonstration had marched from the Arlington, Va., courthouse to the White House.

The same day, tens of thousands of immigrants rallied in a total of 25 cities in 15 states. The following day, thousands more held demonstrations in eight cities in five states. At each one, participants demanded mantener unidas a las familias, “keep families together.”

Ivania Castillo, an immigrant from El Salvador, spoke at the Supreme Court rally. She was one of a group of undocumented persons who had staged a nine day hunger strike in New Orleans in support of Obama’s order.

“We want to send a message to the Republicans,” she said: “la lucha continua. The fight will continue until we have won liberation not only for the 5 million with children, but for all the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Amalia Avila is from Mexico. She said, “I risked my life to come here to find the American dream. I work hard and pay taxes.

“We are not ‘illegals,'” Avila continued. “No human being is illegal. God made us all. I want to be allowed to stay in this country with my son.”

Gustavo Torres, the head of Casa, said: “We are more American than those judges in Texas and New Orleans. We are very proud to be immigrants and to be making our contribution to America, We need to send a message to those who hate us: we are going to stop hate against any and all communities.”

He added “Today, we must especially join the fight to welcome Syrian refugees to the United States.”

The rally at the Supreme Court was organized by Casa and two unions, Local 400 of the United Food and Commercial Workers and Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU 32 BJ).

Jaime Contreras, an SEIU 32BJ organizer, said “Along with immigration policy reform, we must fight for the rights of all workers, because even when workers get papers, they can still be exploited. We all need a higher minimum wage.”

The crowd answered: el pueblo unido jamás será vencido, “the people, united, can never be defeated.”

Summing up the hopes of the participants in the rally, Amalia Avila said: “We will find justice and justice will find us.”

Photo: Casa Executive Director Gustavo Torres (center) leads immigration rights rally at Supreme Court.  |  Larry Rubin/PW


Larry Rubin
Larry Rubin

Larry Rubin has been a union organizer, a speechwriter and an editor of union publications. He was a civil rights organizer in the Deep South and is often invited to speak on applying Movement lessons to today's challenges. He has produced several folk music shows.