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Supreme Court Hears Arguments On DACA; Conservative Justices Appear To Back Trump

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA/AP) — As hundreds of pro-DACA demonstrators protested outside the U.S. Supreme Court and thousands of students in Los Angeles walked out of class, the high court's conservative majority seems prepared to allow the Trump administration to end a program that allows some immigrants to work legally in the United States and protects them from deportation.

DACA Supreme Court
DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) plaintiffs come out of court as immigration rights activists take part in a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC on Nov. 12, 2019. (Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

There did not appear to be any support among the five conservatives in extended arguments Tuesday for blocking the administration's decision to wind down the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It currently protects 660,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra argued on behalf of DACA before the Court.

"We're here to say that we understand that this nation is based on the rule of law," Becerra said at a news conference on the steps of the Supreme Court following the hearing. "We understand, as we learned it from childhood, that there's a right way and a wrong way, and we're to stand up for the right way to do things. And that's why we believe the DACA recipients, the dreamers of America, and immigrants who must live in the shadow, will someday get to prove the nine justices of the Supreme Court got it done the right way."

"There's a right way and a wrong way to do things," he added. "The federal government tried to terminate the DACA program the wrong way."

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California Attorney General Xavier Becerra speaks following arguments about ending DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, DC, on Nov. 12, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh were among the justices who indicated that the administration has provided sufficient reason for wanting to do away with the program. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito raised questions about whether courts should even be reviewing the executive branch's discretionary decisions.

The high court's decision is expected by June, at the height of the 2020 presidential campaign. The case is not over whether DACA itself is legal but the administration's approach to ending it. For the tens of thousands of people affected by DACA, the difference is largely academic.

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Immigration rights activists take part in a rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC on Nov. 12, 2019, as the Supreme Court hears arguments on the fate of the DACA program. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)

DACA currently protects mostly Hispanic young adults, from deportation and provides them work permits, though not a path to citizenship. The program was begun under President Barack Obama in 2012. The Trump administration announced in September 2017 that it would end DACA protections, but lower federal courts have stepped in to keep the program alive.

The Trump administration has argued that Obama exceeded his constitutional powers by bypassing Congress when he created DACA by executive action. He has made his hardline immigration policies, including pursuing construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, a centerpiece of his presidency and his re-election campaign for 2020.

In Los Angeles, meanwhile, supporters of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights held a series of actions in support of the DACA program. Students staged walkouts at Garfield, Warren, Academia, Avance, Marshall and other high school campuses. A rally with students and members of the public took place at the Molecule Man sculpture at the Federal Building in Little Tokyo.

"Two of my cousins have DACA, and it will disrupt my whole family and my community as a whole," Garfield High student Gilbert Gomez told CBS2. "There's so many undocumented immigrants that have DACA in my school, my cousins, and in general."

Rally participants parched to MacArthur Park in Westlake, which was followed by an information fair, rally and concert.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, a former Obama cabinet member, held a news conference in Los Angeles Tuesday morning to showcase support for DACA beneficiaries. She was joined by DACA beneficiaries, Rigoberto Reyes, executive director for the county office of Immigrant Affairs, L.A. Community College District Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez, and members of civic groups.

President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday that if the Supreme Court overturns the immigrants' protections "a deal will be made with the Dems for them to stay!" But Trump's past promises to work with Democrats on a legislative solution for these immigrants have not led to an agreement.

Trump said in his tweet that many program participants are "far from 'angels," and he falsely claimed that "some are very tough, hardened criminals." The program bars anyone with a felony conviction from participating. Serious misdemeanors may also bar eligibility.

Some DACA recipients who are part of the lawsuit against Trump's action were in the courtroom for the arguments. Many people camped out in front of the court for days for a chance at some of the few seats available to the general public. Roberts rejected a request to provide live or same-day audio of the arguments. The court will post the audio on its website on Friday.

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Hundreds of protesters march through the streets of Los Angeles to demonstrate in support of the DACA program as the U.S. Supreme Court hears the case. Nov. 12, 2019. (CBS2)

A second case being argued Tuesday tests whether the parents of a Mexican teenager who was killed by a U.S. border patrol agent in a shooting across the southern border in El Paso, Texas, can sue the agent in American courts.

If the court agrees with the administration in the DACA case, Congress could follow up by putting the program on surer legal footing. But the absence of comprehensive immigration reform from Congress is what prompted Obama to create DACA in 2012, giving people two-year renewable reprieves from the threat of deportation while also allowing them to work.

Federal courts struck down an expansion of DACA and the creation of similar protections for undocumented immigrants whose children are U.S. citizens.

Young immigrants, civil rights groups, universities and Democratic-led cities and states sued to block the administration. They persuaded courts in New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., that the administration had been "arbitrary and capricious" in its actions, in violation of a federal law that requires policy changes to be done in an orderly way.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and City News Service contributed to this report.)

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