WASHINGTON Dancing, singing, chanting and cheering, throngs of supporters of President Barack Obama's plan to protect millions of people in the country illegally from deportation and provide them work permits rallied on Monday outside the U.S. Supreme Court.
More than a thousand demonstrators from around the country flooded the sidewalks and streets around the white marble courthouse as the justices heard arguments on whether to reinstate Obama's executive action, blocked by lower courts.
They greatly outnumbered conservative opponents of Obama's action. Due to the crowds, police closed a section of the street separating the courthouse from the Capitol building to traffic.
Chicagoan Omar Martinez, 24, said he landed a congressional internship because of an Obama program that let some immigrants who entered the country illegally before age 16 receive a renewable, two-year work permit and exemption from deportation.
"It's not just a Latino issue," Martinez said. "It's a multicultural, multinational issue. You have people who are contributing to the economy, contributing to tax funds but can't fully enjoy what it means to be a U.S. citizen."
Demonstrators brought their young children to the rally and a mariachi band played. Members of the Korean American Resource and Cultural Center danced in the street with a small band of drummers. A gospel choir from Howard University, a historically black college, sang several hymns including civil rights anthem "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."
Speakers at the conservative Tea Party Patriots' rally could barely be heard over boos, screams and chants of "stop the hate" from Obama supporters.
Iowa Republican congressman Steve King shouted back: "Are you an example of the America we can expect if this court finds that the president can write law and violate the Constitution at will? If so, we're in for a rough ride in the future."
Iowan Greg Cummings, 51, said his opposition to Obama's action has "nothing to do with race." He said his wife emigrated from Honduras when she was 11 and is now a high school English teacher.
"It's a national sovereignty thing," Cummings said. "A country without borders ceases to be a country. The United States can't be an open society to all the Earth."
Zaira Garcia, 23, a recent University of Texas graduate, recalled how her Mexican father's employers would sometimes withhold pay because they knew he was not in the country legally.
"It's inhumane, the way people who are undocumented can be taken advantage of," Garcia said. "It made us realise and appreciate the sacrifice my parents made to come here. A lot of people think coming to the U.S. is an easy choice, but the reality is hard work and lots of humiliation because of lack of status."
(Reporting by Clarece Polke; Editing by Will Dunham)
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