WASHINGTON, D.C.—Duke students braved the cold and rain Tuesday to join a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court building in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday in a case that will decide the fate of the Obama-era executive action, which protects around 700,000 immigrants who came to the United States as children from the threat of deportation. Seniors Axel Herrera Ramos and Ana Ramirez, junior Salvador Chavero Arellano and sophomore Ana Trejo drove to Washington, D.C., to voice their support for the program outside the building as lawyers presented their cases inside.
Ramirez, a DACA recipient who was born in Ecuador and whose family became undocumented while attempting to get a different kind of visa, said she came to fight for her parents, sisters, friends—and herself.
“I hate the feeling of helplessness, and if there’s anything I can do to feel like I’m contributing to the fight, I will,” she said.
Light rain fell from a dull gray sky as the students joined a group of marchers outside Washington’s Union Station. They were dressed for the occasion: Trejo’s shirt read “Defend DACA, Abolish ICE, Citizenship for All,” while Ramirez and Herrera held signs that said “Defend DACA” and, "Yo soy un americano," meaning “I am an American.”
The group walked together to the Supreme Court building, where a crowd had gathered. People were bundled up in the cold, but many wore hats that read “Home is Here” or held signs in gloved hands. They chanted “here to stay” as a drummer kept a beat.
The event featured a number of speakers, many of whom were undocumented. Among them was actor Bambadjan Bamba, known for playing Bambadjan on the NBC show “The Good Place,” who recounted his experience immigrating from the Ivory Coast at the age of 10.
The four Duke students met Bamba after his speech and got a picture with him. Bamba told The Chronicle that it was “exciting” to see young people like them at the rally.
“The youth always inspired me because they’re the reason I started sharing my story publicly,” he said. “They’re the ones that really forced [former President Barack] Obama to sign this executive order of DACA, so I’m always grateful to be in the presence of a bunch of young people.”
DACA’s road to the Supreme Court began two years ago, when President Donald Trump attempted to end the program. His administration argued that the order was unconstitutional, and the president then welcomed Congress on Twitter to pass legislation enshrining the program in law.
However, lower courts found that the decision to cut off the program was “arbitrary and capricious.” Three separate challenges to Trump’s order were eventually consolidated into the current case, for which the Supreme Court will issue a decision before the term ends in June.
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Duke students have been fighting for DACA since it was first threatened. Herrera and Chavero traveled to Washington in November 2017, along with other members of the student group Define American, to lobby for legislation that would legalize the program.
The students’ trip to Washington, D.C., this week was funded by Define American’s national organization, which paid for hotel rooms and other expenses.
Herrera, a Dreamer who came to the United States from Honduras at the age of 7, also played a role in the Supreme Court case. An amici curiae brief filed by the National Education Association and National Parent-Teacher Association in defense of DACA includes him in a list of Dreamers who benefited from the program.
“DACA gave me access to education,” Herrera said in the brief, noting he received the Golden Door Scholarship, which was established to support DACA recipients in their pursuit of a college degree.
Along with 18 other colleges and universities, Duke signed an amicus brief in the case last month supporting DACA. The University’s administration backed the 2017 trip and has stood in support of Dreamers and a legislative version of the program.
“The issue with the DACA students is always at the top of our priority list, and it’s something that we continually talk to members of Congress about, encouraging them to come up with a solution,” said Chris Simmons, associate vice president in the office of government relations.
On Tuesday, the four Duke students took a more symbolic role. They stood together as the morning wore on, listening to speeches and awaiting the end of the 80-minute oral arguments.
The rain began to fall harder. The signs were hidden by a sea of multicolored umbrellas. Still, the crowd chanted and cheered and, at one point, sang a song.
“I think it’s important to… remind people, and remind each other, as well, that we’re there, and that we’re here to stay, and that we’re there for each other,” Herrera said. “Especially right now.”
The students had more than DACA on their minds. Chavero, a Dreamer who came to the United States from Mexico when he was 1 year old, said he came to Washington, D.C., to fight for his parents, who left the country last year after being ordered out by the government. He also hopes to be able to return to America if he pays them a visit in the future.
“Obviously we all want a permanent solution,” he said, “but I just want the ability to go back and see them.”
Trejo was born in the United States, but her father, a Mexican citizen, was deported on her 10th birthday. Even though she is a citizen, she said she understands the pain of deportation and family separation.
Finally, the rain stopped. The American flags that flank the Supreme Court building flapped as the wind picked up. The arguments ended. The doors opened, and a group of plaintiffs and lawyers from the case came out.
They walked down the steps, holding hands. They paused and raised their arms as the crowd yelled. Watching, Ramirez and Trejo teared up.
“It was definitely powerful,” Trejo said.
Several of the plaintiffs and lawyers stayed to address the crowd. Among them was Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who brought one of the lawsuits that was folded into the current case.
“We are here at the Supreme Court today because of every single one of you,” Hincapié told the crowd. “You fought for DACA. Because you fought for DACA, you are the embodiment of ‘we the people.’ You are the embodiment of what it means to fight for democracy.”