A few Sundays ago, I found myself sitting on a bus next to Irene*, a young woman from Chicago who was visiting Washington, D.C. for the first time. We were headed to the Supreme Court, and in the hour or so that we rode the bus together, I got to know a fair bit about her.
In her last year of high school, Irene is the oldest child and will soon be the first in her family to go to college. Irene was both anxious and excited by what lay ahead, and I was struck by her fierce determination to succeed. She was, after all, making strides not just for herself but for her family. But in Irene's case, the pressure and obligation were even more intense and I quickly understood why when she shared her family situation.
Irene is "DACA-mented," which means that while undocumented, she has a temporary reprieve from deportation made available by President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) executive action. She was brought to the U.S. by her parents at age 2 and has no recollection of life before she came here. Her younger sister was born in the U.S. But her parents are undocumented and because of that, Irene and her family live uncertain and fearful lives, made all the more so by the increasing anti-immigrant fervor and threats of mass deportations being whipped up by Republican front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called 'TRUTH Social' Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE and his ilk.
Irene's trip to D.C. was not a school field trip or a sightseeing visit; she was here to attend the Supreme Court argument scheduled on April 18 in U.S. v. Texas, the case that will decide the legality of Obama's November 2014 executive orders granting an estimated 5 million immigrants relief from deportation. Given that Irene's sister is a U.S. citizen, her parents would be eligible for relief under the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) executive orders. Irene was traveling to join a group of similarly situated young people — 100 in all, from 26 states — in a candlelight vigil in front of the court in support of their families. The next day, these young people would be among the estimated 4,500 immigrant families from at least 26 states who traveled to D.C. to be witness to the oral argument — both inside and outside the courtroom.
Before we parted ways, Irene asked my opinion about the case, and what I thought the ultimate outcome would be. While not driven to making predictions, I assured Irene that we would prevail: "We will win because we are on the right side of the law and on the right side of justice."
In the end, this case will be won not merely because the legal arguments are clear and persuasive, but because any other outcome would be a moral outrage.
Many legal articles have been written that focus on the legality of the president's executive orders, so I will not add to that already rich body of work. Others have examined specific legal issues and how particular justices see the law and statutes and interpret the Constitution. Yet others have looked at the jurisprudence of the more conservative justices and made compelling arguments that on a host of issues, including standing, they should also be persuaded to rule in our favor. Yet others have pointed to the rich history that exists of presidential grants of immigration relief dating back to President Eisenhower in 1956. These and many other legal and policy arguments undergird our conviction that we are on the right side of the law.
Beyond these strictly legal matters, however, lies an even more powerful issue: that of justice. And while history is replete with examples of our country's highest court turning its back on Lady Justice on any number of issues — slavery, civil rights, voting rights, women's rights — there are also examples when this institution has played a leading role in writing the story of America-s living Constitution — the foundation of who we are — in a way that has delivered justice for Americans and forever changed their lives.
Justice was evident in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case that ended school desegregation and upheld our nation's most cherished values of equality and opportunity. In the words of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, "Brown v. Board of Education was one of the most important cases that this Court ever decided. It was really crucial in determining what it was that our Constitution means, and what our country stands for."
More recently, and under this current Supreme Court, justice was delivered in King v. Burwell, which upheld the Affordable Care Act, making it possible for millions of Americans to have access to healthcare. That same year, the court also delivered a powerful opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, expanding rights for gays and lesbians by legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy reminded us of the living nature of our constitution, stating that the "generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted future generations a charter protecting the rights of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning."
Losing is inconceivable for us because to lose would mean that the court would deny us justice when the law is on our side, while also rejecting the dignity and humanity of the immigrants whose lives are in their hands. It would put the justices on the wrong side of history and squarely on the side of those who have let hate and exclusion permeate our political climate.
While we wait for the court to issue an opinion, the immigrant rights movement, our families and those who believe in freedom and justice will continue to fight every day for their dignity and rights. That fight is both for and by families like Irene's. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "[We] will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream."
*Not her real name.
Matos is director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change.