Washington — Rep. Steve King’s address on the steps of US Supreme Court on Monday never really had a chance of being heard.
“You want to be citizens of America and conduct yourselves in a fashion where you try to shout down someone who is exercising their right to freedom of speech?” said King, a Republican from Iowa and one of the most hawkish immigration members of Congress.
Dozens of pro-immigration reform activists attempted to drown out his speech with chants.
“Do I need to start reading the Constitution from the First Amendment?” he said.
In a show of organizing might, thousands of zealous immigration-reform activists, brought together by tiny grassroots groups and celebrity-backed efforts, stormed the steps of the court for an upbeat rally complete with speeches and singalongs in support of President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration.
Yet despite the lively atmosphere, a figure with no official role in the case nevertheless loomed, omnipresent: Donald Trump.
The Republican presidential frontrunner has made immigration a staple of his presidential bid, starting with in his controversial campaign announcement speech. He has promised to deport the approximately 11 million immigrants living in the US without permission.
Mentions of Trump’s rhetoric peppered the various speeches on the steps of the court on Monday.
“I’m not a rapist, drug dealer, or criminal,” Illinois business owner Sergio Suarez said, referencing Trump’s campaign announcement speech, in which he charged that Mexican government was sending its “rapists” and other criminals across the border.
“Immigrants made America great hundreds of years ago, and immigrants are making Americans great today,” Suarez added.
Raymond Partolan, an attendee who serves as the program coordinator for Asian Americans Advancing Justice, told Business Insider that while it was inspiring to see the thousands of activists swarming the court, the presidential campaign rhetoric from the Republican frontrunner has put a lid on the excitement.
“It’s worrisome,” Partolan said. “The most disappointing thing from this election cycle has been the rhetoric.”
If the court reaches a 4-4 decision, an appeals-court ruling blocking the Obama administration’s implementation of the programs will stand. That outcome would not set a legal precedent, allowing another challenge should the programs be revived under a future administration, a potential outcome should either Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders win the 2016 election.
Many activists still find the president’s executive actions far inferior to actual legalization. But the failure of the 2013 congressional immigration-reform bill, coupled with Trump’s rise on a hardline platform, has united immigrant-rights groups.
Partolan criticized the way that the real-estate magnate used immigration reform as a purity litmus test in the Republican primary, scaring off potential supporters in the US House of Representatives for a pathway to citizenship for immigrants living in the country unlawfully.
“Immigration has polarized our country,” Partolan said. “People need to stop playing politics with the lives of individuals and families across the US.”
Though supporters of the president’s executive actions projected optimism, many acknowledged the difficulty of the case before the court.
After watching the arguments Monday, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said that while justices seemed wary of the Texas solicitor general’s argument for why the states had legal to bring the case standing, both sides had strong cases.
“I think that ultimately the administration will prevail, and these families will prevail,” Castro said.
He added: “But there were strong arguments on both sides.”