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Strong Reaction Locally After SCOTUS Affirmative Action, Immigration Rulings

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - The US Supreme Court's rulings on affirmative action and immigration are sparking strong responses from local advocates, who are now gearing up to take action.

Members of the immigrant community gathered at Juntos in South Philadelphia Thursday afternoon to express hurt and outrage over the Supreme Court's 4-4 decision that effectively invalidates President Obama's DAPA Executive Order. DAPA, if implemented, would have protected parents of American born children from deportation.

"We're very scared because we don't know what's going to happen next," says Olivia Vasquez.

She immigrated to America as a child and while she's protected under President Obama's DACA order, which protects undocumented immigrants brought to America as children, she is fearful that her mother will be deported.

"It's like they gave us hope, got our hopes up and then took it all away," she says.

Vasquez used her DACA status to go to Community College of Philadelphia. She recently graduated with her AA last week, but this ruling makes the win bitter sweet.

"We are in limbo again, just like before," she adds.

Her mother, Olivia Ponce, is undocumented, but has children born in America. She would have qualified for DAPA, but the Supreme Court's inability to decide definitively on the matter means she'll have to wait and continue to live in fear of deportation.

"I am angry," she says, "but I am not afraid to fight-- I am a strong woman."

vasquez and mom
Olivia Vasquez and her mother. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

"If immigration comes to my house, they can take my family," says Maria Sotomayor, who immigrated to America from Ecuador at age nine. She was visibly emotional at the press conference, saying she gave a call to her parents who were working-- but now must fear getting deported.

"We are going to organized," she said defiantly, "this is just the beginning-- this blow will make us stronger; we are not pawns in a political game."

The advocates called President Obama the "deporter in chief," saying the Supreme Court ruling leaves the Obama administration at a deficit when it comes to immigration.

"President Obama is not allowed to implement his immigration program," says Kermit Roosevelt, a professor at University of Pennsylvania Law School. "It will now be up to the next administration."

Roosevelt, who clerked for the US Supreme Court, says the eight-member bench has been less effective, kicking the can down the road on a number of key issues. He says the 4-4 decision means the lower court ruling blocking DAPA remains in place. It's as though the Supreme Court never heard the case.

"This court is reluctant to make big moves," he says, "maybe they think they are not as legitimate as an eight member or seven member court as they would be if their bench was complete."

The incomplete bench gives pause to affirmative action advocates as well. The Court held 4-3 to uphold a race-conscious admissions text at the University of Texas. Roosevelt says the ruling is rather narrow. Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia NAACP is viewing the decision with caution.

"I celebrate this victory, but I can't celebrate it without expressing concern," he says, "this could have easily went the other way."

Muhammad says Justice Antonin Scalia, who died earlier this year leaving a vacancy on the bench, expressed strong disapproval for the program. He says there are other affirmative action cases in the pipeline that could be on the way to the high court, so filling the court with a sympathetic judge will be critical to keeping affirmative action alive.

"It is our voting in November that is so crucial," he says, "the next president will appoint one to two justices-- this must be viewed with urgency."

Muhammad says the NAACP is planning massive get out the vote efforts in Pennsylvania beginning later this summer.

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