Just minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court’s hearing on the legality of a federal policy that protects more than 700,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally, California weighed in.
Scores of Californians — students, lawyers, activists, politicians — who attended the hearing gathered at the high court plaza in Washington, waving signs of support for the young immigrants known as Dreamers. “Defend DACA,” many of the signs read, colored in the blue and gold of the University of California — a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that sought to stop the Trump administration from ending the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
In Los Angeles, hundreds of teens walked out of classes, urging the court to continue the policy that has transformed Dreamers’ lives by allowing them to legally work without fear of deportation since it was adopted in 2012 by the Obama administration.
Top state leaders, including Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and UC President Janet Napolitano, vowed to stand with the young immigrants no matter what the court decides.
“These are young people who have done all that has been asked of them,” Napolitano said in a teleconference Tuesday. “To remove their DACA protection in the way that the Trump administration has attempted to do and to make them subject to eviction from the only country they know as home is not only not legally required, but it is inconsistent with good immigration policy and inconsistent with our values as a country.”
California plays an outsized role in the debate over DACA. It has the largest number of recipients — more than 220,000, nearly one-third of the nation’s total. The UC system, along with the state and other California entities and individuals, led the legal challenge at issue in Tuesday’s high court hearing. Napolitano was the architect of DACA while she served as U.S. Homeland Security secretary under President Obama.
And Californians overwhelmingly support DACA, including majorities of Republicans and those who identify as conservatives, according to a 2018 statewide survey by the Public Policy Institute of California. The survey found that 85% of adults surveyed supported the continued protections, including majorities across all races, ethnicities, geographic regions and political ideologies.
Some opponents, however, also spoke out Tuesday. Kimo Gandall, a UC Irvine senior and chairman of California College Republicans, said his statewide organization believes DACA is an “overextension of executive power” that improperly allows the president to refuse to implement immigration laws passed by Congress. He also said that illegal immigration hurts domestic workers and encourages human trafficking across the border.
“I view it as a great perversion of our republic not to deport these individuals,” Gandall said. “If the law looks cruel, that’s unfortunate, but that’s not a reason not to implement the law. The way to solve it would be for the Legislature to create a DACA-like program.”
Some legal experts noted Tuesday that the high court’s conservative justices seemed receptive to the Trump administration’s arguments defending its decision to shut down the program.
Becerra said Tuesday he was “intrigued” by how much time the justices spent on the question of whether courts had the right to review the administration’s actions. The attorney general asserted California’s position that they did have such rights.
“In America, you learn that there’s a right way to do things and there’s a wrong way to do things,” he said. “And what came forward in this argument today is that the federal government did it the wrong way. The DACA program should continue. It was legal to begin with.”
Napolitano said UC would continue to stand by its DACA students regardless of the legal outcome. She said the 10-campus system would continue to offer them student services and free legal aid. She also promised efforts to raise private funds to help the students, many of whom she said were low-income and would suffer financially if they lost the right to work.
She took issue with Trump’s Twitter message on Tuesday calling some DACA recipients “very tough, hardened criminals.” She noted that those who had been convicted of felonies or multiple misdemeanors were not eligible for the program. Of those approved for DACA from 2012 to February 2018, about 7.8% had arrest records, and those were mostly for offenses related to driving and immigration, according to federal statistics.
“The president’s tweet was just wrong,” she said. “The DACA recipients I’ve met are hardworking students, positive contributors to the university community and young people with hopes and dreams that at the university we want to support.”
Many such students and their allies were out in force Tuesday, choosing to skip class — a decision supported by some L.A. Unified School District leaders and many college campuses.
Just before 10 a.m., dozens of students silently walked out of their classrooms at Garfield High School, holding signs that read, “Our dreams are not illegal” and “Rise for DACA.” Organizers for East L.A. advocacy groups stood along the street outside the school in neon vests, toting wagons of water and snacks and handing out “know your rights” pamphlets. Three students carried a banner painted with a monarch butterfly, a symbol for immigration advocates, and such messages as “It’s a human right.”
As the marchers made their way down Atlantic Boulevard to the Metro train, bolstered by honks from passersby, they roared out their will to fight in both English and Spanish. Once on the train they chanted, “Trump, escucha, estamos en la lucha!” — “Trump, listen, we are in the fight!”
Samantha Barrientos, 16, a student activist with the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights who organized the Garfield walkout, held a bullhorn and led chants. As the only U.S. citizen in her family, the 11th-grader said she had seen the way that DACA status helped her older sister pursue dreams without fear. The walkout was meant to show the Trump administration and Supreme Court justices that young people care so much about the fates of their peers, friends and families that they were willing to give up a day of education, she and others said.
She had a message for the justices who carry the fate of Dreamers in their hands: “Take into consideration that these recipients have families now. They are very welded into their communities. They are parents, they are siblings; they are our community, they are our people.”
By about 11:15 a.m., the Garfield students reached the federal building in downtown L.A., where hundreds of others were already gathered. A Garfield history teacher played an Aztec drum to the beat of student-led chants. Speakers included students, a teachers union representative and LAUSD school board member Monica Garcia.
After, as the hundreds of teens marched west through and past downtown, escorted by police who blocked off one city block at a time, Angelenos stood on the sidewalks of Spring Street, some filming, others cheering and honking in support.
Jazmin Ramirez Morales, a 28-year-old master’s student in social work at Cal State L.A., told her professor and classmates that she would be missing class Tuesday to support the high school students walking out of their classrooms — and they came with her. She expressed concern about Dreamers who will have to hustle for cash-only jobs and lose educational opportunities like she did before DACA.
The Cal State L.A. student came to the United States from Mexico at age 3, driven across the border by a family friend. After graduating from high school in Lennox in 2009, she lived at home with her parents and found jobs that would pay her in cash, mostly in fast-food restaurants. With the California Dream Act and DACA in 2012, she was able to get a stable job at T-Mobile and some financial aid to finish college. The authorization allowed her to work as a foster care case manager, and eventually enroll in the master’s program, funded by a government stipend.
“I want people to know that we matter,” she said.