(Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

On the other side, three trumpet players blared their horns to accompany the immigration camp’s rendition of “This Land is Our Land,” while priests, students, union members and Latino advocates decried Arizona’s SB1070 as “Racism, not Reform.”

Inside, the justices were deliberating whether Arizona’s law — which requires local police to check the immigration status of people who are arrested or detained — violated the federal government’s responsibilities to enforce immigration laws. But it wasn’t the legal debate that most concerned the demonstrators.

Supporters of Arizona’s law made it clear that they didn’t simply oppose illegal immigration — they feared it. “We have a home in Florida, and the illegals stay in our back yard,” explained Kay Rivoli, one of the country musicians on stage. “They leave little knife blades, Guatemalan money, sleeping bags and syringes — they stay in the bushes.”

The activists supporting the Arizona law emphasized that illegal immigration was a gateway to a host of unspeakable crimes and moral degeneration: “Take a look at the rape trees in the Arizona desert. When women come, they’re told to bring plenty of condoms, because ‘you’ll be raped,’ and the trees are covered with women’s underwear and condoms,” decried JoAnn Abbott, a tea party activist from northern Virginia, referring to confirmed reports of migrant women’s rape by border “coyotes,”as the human traffickers are known. By contrast, after Virginia’s Prince William County cracked down on immigration, “the crackhouses in my neighborhood were all gone, and the people who smash glass in the storefronts are all gone,” Abbott claimed.

“It just baffles me — they should be on our side. They talk about us like we’re not human beings,” said Yari Osorio, a 27-year-old from Queens who originally came to the country as an illegal immigrant.

Opponents of the Arizona law appealed to a different emotion to rouse support: compassion. “It is a moral and spiritual issue — we cannot promote laws that foster fears and destroy communities. … This law is inhumane, it is profoundly un-Christian,” said Father Jackozechowski, a Franciscan monk who immigrated from communist Poland to the United States in 1988.

The monk, wearing a cowled, floor-length brown robe, was holding up a sign that read “Jesus weeps over SB1070.” He was among the many religious leaders who went to the Supreme Court to oppose the Arizona law, and who’ve formed the backbone of the church community that has tried to support illegal immigrants on the ground level as an extension of Christian charity and mercy. Members of one group — People of Faith for Immigrant Justice — made a silent procession through the streets surrounding the court, most dressed in long white church robes, with one carrying a statue of the crucifixion.

The rhetorical shouting match quickly became a literal one, with confrontations breaking out across the steps. Osorio, for one, heckled the anti-immigrant activists at the podium who accused illegal immigrants of bankrupting hospitals. “Give us some rights, then!” he shouted. “The law is racist!”

“If you don’t like it, go back to your Third World armpit!” one activist countered.

When a group of young Latino activists marched by, shouting “Arizona shame on you!” Blake Southerland, a 62-year-old retiree from Maryland, had his retort ready. “Go home! Go home! Go back to your country!”

Initial accounts suggest that the Supreme Court appears sympathetic to Arizona’s case. But no ruling is likely to quell the fears and hopes on display on the court’s steps.