“The American People are on Our Side”: Immigration Advocates Bullish on SCOTUS Immigration Case

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The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in what’s being called the most significant immigration case in decades. The case pits the Obama administration against 26 states led by Texas. The states filed suit to block Obama’s program DAPA, Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, which would protect more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. Following the death of Antonin Scalia, the court is divided with four liberal justices and four conservatives. A 4-4 split would leave in place a 2015 lower court ruling that threw out the president’s executive action. We speak to Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are on the road in Salt Lake City, Utah, as part of our 100-city tour, headed to Colorado this afternoon.

In what’s being called the most significant immigration case in decades, the Supreme Court heard arguments Monday to determine if President Obama overstepped his authority when he took unilateral action to protect more than 4 million undocumented immigrants from deportation. The case pits the Obama administration against 26 states led by Texas. The states filed suit to block DAPA—that’s Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. Following the death of Antonin Scalia, the court is divided with four liberal justices and four conservatives. A 4-4 split would leave in place a 2015 lower court ruling that threw out the president’s executive action. Attorney Thomas Saenz of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund was one of four attorneys to argue the case before the court. He spoke after the hearing.

THOMAS SAENZ: In defending the president’s exercise of his constitutional prerogative, as has been exercised by his many predecessors over the last 50 years, to set priorities in immigration enforcement, his guidance issued in November 2014 was simply an exercise of that long-standing authority. The justices this morning seemed very concerned, in vigorous questioning, about whether the state of Texas had standing or the right to even be in court to challenge that exercise of enforcement discretion.

AMY GOODMAN: Sophie Cruz, a six-year-old American citizen and child of an undocumented immigrant from Texas, may have been the youngest person watching the historic proceedings. She spoke at a news conference after the arguments ended.

SOPHIE CRUZ: I asked the judges to protect us children and all immigrants. Help us with DAPA, DACA and immigration reform for all. I have the right to protection. I have the right to live with my parents. I have the right to live without fear. I have the right to be happy.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by two guests. Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez represents Illinois in Congress. He is chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. And Jose Antonio Vargas is with us, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker who famously came out of the shadows in 2011 in The New York Times Magazine with his story, “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” He is the founder and editor of #EmergingUS and founder of Define American.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! You both were in the Supreme Court yesterday. Congressmember Luis Gutiérrez, talk about the significance of this case. Lay out exactly what the Supreme Court is considering.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Oh, here’s what the Supreme Court is considering: whether or not you can give a driver’s license and a work permit to someone, because, really, when you listen—and I was there in New Orleans at the Fifth Circuit—and what has clearly been established is that the president does have the authority under the law to set priorities about who’s going to be deported or not. It was a lot clearer in New Orleans than it was yesterday, but it came through pretty resoundingly yesterday. In other words, as Judge Ginsburg says, they’re going to stay—something that I and my colleague have been saying for a long time. They are not going anywhere. And nothing yesterday is going to stop them from being deported. In other words, they get to stay.

But here’s what they’re really saying. What they’re saying is, “Yeah, we’re not here to challenge whether the president of the United States is going to deport them or not. Yeah, he’s not going to deport them. But we don’t want them to have a driver’s license. We do not want them to have a work permit. We want them to live in misery. We want them to live in such conditions that maybe they will leave.” In other words, it’s very mean-spirited kind of contentions, because a driver’s license—as the justices said yesterday, “Hey, they are driving today. They are working today. Isn’t it better to put them on the books, have them go through a background check and drive with a driver’s license and insurance?” They’re here, and no one’s going to deport them.

I think we’re going to win, because, as in the past, if Roberts and Kennedy are consistent with their decision that they made on Arizona, in which they almost flippantly asserted it’s up to the state of Arizona whether they get a driver’s license or not, but, on the other hand, they cannot become involved in dictating immigration policy, that that is the purview of the federal government.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk, Congressman Gutiérrez, about the significance of, well, you know, the death of Antonin Scalia, what it means for this case and what will happen in this 4-4—well, it’s not necessarily a 4-4 split on this—


AMY GOODMAN: —but what the shape of the court looks like now?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Look, no one in the immigration movement ever expected Judge Scalia to vote and side with the immigrant community on this case or with the president, so that was never a concern. It was always going to be five to four, so now it will be five to three, maybe even six to two. It all really depends on the issue of standing and how it is the Supreme Court looks at this. It is clearly the purview of the federal government. And all of the—look, even when the lawyers for the Republican Party were asked yesterday whether or not they were there to force these deportations, they said no. That’s not even an issue. Moreover, when the attorney for Paul Ryan and the majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives came forward and tried to argue about the president overstepping his boundaries, he was clearly cut down by the justices of the Supreme Court.

But let me say one thing else, and that is, I got to tell you, if there was ever a reason for having parity and justice and equality between men and women, it was yesterday, because the women on the Supreme Court really took this one forward and were just vigorous and energetic, and asking the kinds of questions which I believe will lead to a victory of our community. So I say, let’s make sure we keep passing those laws to make sure that women and men have equality, even on the federal bench.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaking after Monday’s oral arguments before the Supreme Court.

ATTORNEY GENERAL KEN PAXTON: Today, our solicitor general, who’s standing next to me, argued the case strongly for the rule of law. If we allow a president, whether it’s this president or a future president, no matter what their political persuasion or their party, to make changes in the law without congressional approval, then we will end up with a perverted Constitution. So, today was a strong day for the Constitution, defending the rule of law.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Gutiérrez, your response?

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Look, the president of the United States gets to set the priorities. They’re here. They didn’t sue under DACA. We can see, 750,000 DREAMers strong today, what a magnificent example of the positive nature of the president’s actions. The fact is that the American public—and, Amy, look, the law is on our side. It’s clear the law is on our side. The American people are on our side. And if they will allow a vote in the House or in the Senate today, this case will become moot. Moreover, 5 million American citizen children are on the minds of those Supreme Court justices. What will the legacy be for those millions of citizen children? One of happiness? One in which the government stood up and said, “Yes, your mom and dad, who are not a priority for deportation, are not a threat to the United States of America”? Because the Congress of the United States didn’t act—you know, are they going to continue to have a legacy in which they lived in fear? I think the Supreme Court is really going to judge all of that.

And look, maybe they’re not going to judge for justice, for fairness, for the immigrant children. Maybe they’re not going to do that. But they are going to say there’s going to be chaos if every time a state objected to an action of the president of the United States or the Congress of the United States, they would simply say, “Oh, we don’t like it, because that costs us too much money,” because that’s really what they’re saying with drivers’ licenses, “It just costs us too much money.” There would be chaos in the federal government, in the United States of America. I think we’re going to win on this case on the standing issue. They do not have standing to come before the Supreme Court and argue immigration. That is clearly in the federal purview.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Gutiérrez, on this issue, how many times have you been arrested protesting around immigration reform—in fact, protesting your own president, protesting President Obama? And yet, in this case, you certainly stand on his side when it comes to the executive actions around DAPA and DACA.

REP. LUIS GUTIÉRREZ: Look, Amy, I stood with others in our immigrant community for years, arguing that the president had this authority. I always knew he had. I’m happy we’re on the same page. I voted in two primaries for Barack Obama and two general elections, and I voted for him when he became the senator from the state of Illinois. I always wanted Barack Obama to do well and to this become part of his legacy.

Let me share with you what I said to the president the night before he announced these priorities, while we were having dinner in the Roosevelt Room and he announced them. And he said, “Luis, what do you think?” And I said to him that day, “Because I have been one of your most ferocious critics, Mr. President, I think I have to be one of your greatest defenders, because I think you need to have balance.” It can’t all just be about criticism, criticism, criticism. It also has to be about saying thank you and having a sense of gratitude. And I have a great sense of gratitude. Remember that in 1986, under the Ronald Reagan—and it was an amnesty act—3 million people fixed their immigration status. When we win, it will be over 5 million people, in the president’s executive order.

It isn’t everything we’re asking for. It isn’t everything we’re striving for. But it’s a great down payment. And it allows the American people to see and people to come out out of a different closet, right? But people to come and see Miguel and José and to see Margarita and to see people from Poland and Ireland and the Philippines in a new state, when they see them at work, when they come with a new smile on their face and say, “Hey, you know that old Social Security card? I have a new one, because I was undocumented,” and for the American people to see there’s nothing to fear, that these are their co-workers, these are people they care about a lot. That is one of the greatest thing about the DREAMers, is to see the young people come forward and everybody embrace them as Americans.

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Jose Antonio Vargas: There’s Nothing More American Than Fighting for Immigration Reform

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