Some drove more than 30 hours to get there. Hundreds more boarded buses or hopped on planes. No matter how they came to the Supreme Court on Monday, the purpose was the same: To humanize a debate they say has long been dehumanizing.
This was the moment for thousands of families, many of mixed immigration status, to present their own case outside the nation’s highest court as the eight justices inside heard arguments over President Obama’s deportation-relief proposals in United States v. Texas.
The multitude augmented their arguments with songs, signs and personal stories. Some were nationally recognized faces of the immigrant rights movement, including Gaby Pacheco, Jose Antonio Vargas, members of Congress, religious leaders and little Sophie Cruz, who became a mini-celebrity last fall when she presented Pope Francis with a letter during his trip to Washington.
Sophie and her mother, Zoyla Cruz, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, were among the first people admitted to the court to watch the 90-minute arguments.
But many of the others who came for the hearing were ordinary folk, traveling from as far away as California and as close as Columbia Heights.
“Whatever they decide, it will impact my life,” said Marly Arevalo, a community college student who lives in Prince George’s County.
She arrived in the United State seven years ago from Guatemala, crossing the border without permission. If the justices uphold the president’s executive action, she would be eligible for the extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Arevalo was one of about 100 people who arrived before sunrise to secure a ticket to enter the courtroom. Inside, she said she grew nervous as lawyers representing Texas and the other 26 states challenging the programs laid out their arguments.
“They were forceful and clear,” she said. “I felt that the justices may have been convinced and were doubtful. And that worried me.”
Those outside the court were far more optimistic, believing their crusade is morally imperative, as well as legally justifiable.
Jeannette Vizguerra of Colorado camped out Sunday night as temperatures dipped into the 40s, joined by her son and about 25 other mothers from a group that had formed on social media and called itself Dreamers, Mothers in Action.
The group set up banners, displaying shoes donated by people who had crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Inside the shoes, they placed small American flags, held in place with crumpled paper towels.
Organizer Lenka Mendoza led a vigil Sunday afternoon, praying aloud and holding photos of the justices. Others held signs with messages such as “Families have no borders” and “Supreme Court, show me justice.”
“Equal justice under the law,” Mendoza said, gazing up at that inscription engraved onto the face of the Supreme Court. “That is what we are looking for.”
Nearby, the Tea Party Patriots staked out a spot and set up a lectern for their own event, a news conference featuring four members of Congress that was to focus on the court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
Field organizer Gregg Cummings said the group is deeply opposed to extending deportation relief to those who have entered the United States illegally.
“We are a nation of laws. We cannot be the world’s playground,” Cummings, of Iowa, said. “A nation without borders is no longer a nation.”
The group of women from Dreamers, Mothers in Action came from more than two dozen states, organizers said. All would be eligible for Obama’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans program if the court allows it to go forward.
They had been fasting since Friday, had not showered and were exhausted.
But as the crowd swelled Monday morning, ready to listen to Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and other speakers, the mothers held onto their section of sidewalk. Wearing matching hot-pink shirts, they became one of the most visible groups at a rally that had suddenly swelled to at least 2,000 people.
Vizguerra, the Colorado mother, danced the steps of “el jarabe tapatio,” better known as the Mexican hat dance, when a mariachi band began playing.
She also listened carefully as a cavalcade of speakers whipped up the crowd in a raucous “Si se puede!”
“Our job here is to make sure they see the needs of our families,” said Vizguerra, who is facing final deportation orders that would separate her from her husband and children. “I am a woman of faith and I have hope. If it doesn’t happen, the struggle will continue.”