WASHINGTON — Arisaid Gonzalez Porras, 20, was one of several thousand rallying in front of the Supreme Court on Tuesday as it heard arguments on the fate of a program that protects young immigrants, which she says has transformed her life — but the Trump administration is trying to put on the chopping block.
"With DACA, there was an immediate sense of relief, knowing that I'd be able to go to college and apply to scholarships," Gonzalez Porras, a junior majoring in American Studies at Georgetown University, told NBC News, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. "I remember getting my first paycheck at Georgetown and not having to think twice about inserting a social security number, which was a major consideration before DACA."
DACA was established in 2012 by former President Barack Obama and allowed teens older than 16 and adults younger than 30 who were brought to the United States when they were children to work and study without fear of deportation. Gonzalez Porras is one of more than 800,000 young immigrants who have enrolled.
Tuesday, a large crowd of demonstrators who came from different states including New York, Florida and California braved the cold and rainy weather on the steps of the Supreme Court, chanting at times in English and Spanish, "Sí, se puede" and "Yes, we can."
Unofficial estimates put the crowd at several thousand; at one point police closed off the street in front of the Supreme Court to manage the crowd that had assembled.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on a Trump administration challenge to lower court rulings that blocked the administration from ending the program, which President Donald Trump announced he would do in 2017.
Administration officials argue the program interferes with its immigration enforcement efforts and sanctions the violation of federal law, but they have been challenged in court by civil rights, legal and immigration groups.
Four of the conservative justices — Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — appeared likely to side with the Trump administration and agree the program had been properly shut down, according to NBC News' Pete Williams. It was unclear if Chief Justice John Roberts was also leaning in their direction. Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the administration needed to explain their decision to shut down DACA. "This is about a choice to destroy lives," said Sotomayor.
Hours before the hearing, Trump tweeted, "Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from 'angels.' Some are very tough, hardened criminals," he tweeted. "If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!"
Actually, only young immigrant adults who had "not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors" could be considered for DACA status, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Dreamers and DACA recipients were among national groups rallying outside the Supreme Court as the oral arguments took place Tuesday. Some have been there since yesterday.
Democratic lawmakers, including the Congressional Hispanic Caucus held a press conference and a prayer breakfast with national leaders in support of the DACA.
"It saved my children's lives"
Alejandra Fernández, originally from Argentina, has lived in the Virginia suburbs for the past 17 years. She came to the rally with a group called Moms for DACA. All three of her children were born in Argentina and are DACA recipients.
“DACA is everything. It saved my children’s lives," she said. "Without DACA, they wouldn’t have been able to even get a driver’s license."
Fernandez added her children came when they were very small "and they don't know any other place than here. The United States is everything to them."
Many DACA recipients are like Gonzalez Porras, who arrived in the U.S. from Mexico when she was younger than two years old and grew up in Mesa, Arizona. When the confirmation of her DACA enrollment came in the mail, she recalls, her mother told her this was her chance at college and a better life.
A recent Harvard study found the program has provided long-term economic and educational benefits for young adults and their families; 76 percent of DACA recipients doubled their yearly salaries and have completed professional and educational programs, bolstering the nation's workforce and contributing billions of dollars to the economy.
Lately, Gonzalez Porras has been preoccupied with thoughts of how she'd adjust to life post-DACA.
"What does my future look like? I'm trying to make a plan and think about opportunities I can take internationally, but it's not just me that would be affected; it's my whole family," she said.
"DACA recipients shouldn't be used as a way to extract more pain from immigrant communities," said José Muñoz, national communications manager for United We Dream, the largest immigrant youth-led network, who said that immigrant communities have been targeted "again and again."
The rally, according to Muñoz, is an opportunity for DACA recipients and allies to "make their voices heard."
Muñoz said many of the young people rallying are not just DACA recipients, but are also part of the growing group of teenage immigrants who were too young to qualify for DACA status when it was first introduced but who "want to continue the fight." Since Trump announced he would rescind the program, there have been renewals for those who are enrolled but no new applications.
"There is unity in this community that has been routinely attacked under the current administration," Munoz said.
Another group attending the rally is the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC), which recently helped lead a 230-mile march to the Supreme Court from New York City in support of DACA, with Home is Here, a coalition of other immigrant advocacy organizations.
"There was rain; there were hecklers, but we were and are resilient and we wanted people to see the community we've been able to build for ourselves," Sam Yu, communications coordinator of NAKASEC, said. "With the march and at the rally, we want to send the message that even though the fight doesn't end with DACA, it should be preserved. And for the people who can't be there with us, we want them to know: We are fighting for them."
The rally follows a nationwide event Friday in which high school and college students of various immigration statuses walked out of class in support of preserving DACA.
DACA recipient Missael García, 29, lives in Baltimore and came to the U.S. when he was 12. He now works in a youth education program teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and has a daughter who is 2.
"Ending DACA would be a big blow for my family, it would be a complete family separation," García said. "We are here to tell the justices that this is more than just a work permit. This is about keeping families together.”
The Supreme Court's ruling on DACA, according to legal analysts, may not come until the spring of 2020.
Patricia Guadalupe reported from Washington, D.C. and Gwen Aviles and Nicole Acevedo reported from New York.