About 100 immigrants and advocates from California and across the country gathered here overnight for a vigil at the federal appeals courthouse where a hearing is scheduled Friday about President Obama's effort to shield as many as 5 million from deportation.
Francisco Flores, 57, a middle school teacher from San Fernando, traveled with a group from the Los Angeles area. He wore a red T-shirt that said in Spanish, "Undocumented without fear."
"As a teacher, I see the end results because the parents have been deported: children crying, stressed, broken families," Flores said. "They're breaking up families."
He joined others who lighted candles, then stood on the steps of the courthouse chanting, singing and praying aloud.
Lawrence Benito, director of the Chicago-based Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said about 80 from their group were en route "to hear what the court has to say, but also to put a face on the issue."
"This impacts immigrants across the country," Benito said. "Regardless of the outcome, we are going to continue to organize. We will not be deterred."
Immigrant advocates from 20 states including California are expected to gather by Friday morning to march from the Monument to the Immigrant at the foot of Canal Street to the courthouse ahead of the hearing, then rally outside. During the last court hearing, their chants and drumming could be heard inside.
The conflict began in December when Texas officials filed suit against the Obama administration's programs before they could start, joined by 25 other states (other states and local leaders have backed the Obama administration).
In February, U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen in Texas, an outspoken conservative, issued a preliminary injunction preventing the administration from starting the programs.
On Tuesday, Hanen admonished the administration for moving ahead with parts of the programs and ignoring the injunction, calling them "unacceptable" and "unprofessional" and saying he was "shocked and surprised at the cavalier attitude the government has taken."
Hanen demanded the administration explain why, after the injunction, they issued work permits to immigrants who had entered the country illegally. Otherwise, he said, officials will have to appear in his courtroom in the border city of Brownsville to explain in person next month, including the heads of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
In May, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans refused the administration's request to lift Hanen's stay after hearing oral arguments from both sides.
The sides will meet again for oral arguments at 9 a.m. Central time Friday about the programs, known as the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans, or DAPA, and an extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. Several lawyers are expected to speak for two hours and 40 minutes, not including judges' questions.
The administration will be represented by Ben Mizer, acting U.S. attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Division and former Ohio solicitor general. Mizer will be joined by Deputy Assistant U.S. Atty. Gen. Beth S. Brinkmann, former assistant to the solicitor general of the United States.
In addition to the states' case Friday, the three-judge panel will consider a related case involving three immigrant mothers from south Texas eligible for DAPA, represented by Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund.
Arguing on behalf of Texas and the other states will be conservative Texas Solicitor Gen. Scott Keller and Assistant Texas Solicitor Gen. Alex Potapov, who arrived in New Orleans on Thursday and are expected to comment after Friday's hearing.
The 5th Circuit has 15 judges responsible for cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and Friday's randomly assigned three-judge panel consists of Jennifer Walker Elrod, Jerry E. Smith and Carolyn Dineen King – the first two conservatives appointed by Republican presidents, the third a moderate appointed by a Democrat.
The Justice Department has argued that the states lack legal standing to object, and officials have reason to be hopeful. In April, another three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit (King and two different conservative judges) unanimously ruled that immigration agents and Mississippi lacked legal standing to sue over DACA because of scant evidence that they would be harmed by the program.
But the panel set to hear Friday's arguments has already signaled their doubts that Texas and the other states similarly lack standing to sue.
On June 29, the judges ordered both sides to file briefs addressing a new Supreme Court ruling upholding the Arizona Legislature's right to sue over a referendum that allowed an independent commission to handle redistricting.