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Defying stacked odds, hundreds to rally outside court over immigration lawsuit

Hundreds of people are gathering at the steps of the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans in the face of stacked odds unlikely to play out in their favor.

Mary Moreno’s phone had been blowing up all Thursday morning. Texts from organizers across the country came streaming in throughout the day, sharing expected arrival times in New Orleans and bidding safe travels ahead of the crucial court hearing that could determine their fates.

“Good morning! Welcome to the group text for all bus captains traveling to NOLA!” the thread began.

“Have a safe drive and see you all soon!”

“Pictures please…”

Immigrant families impacted by President Obama’s stalled executive actions hit the road from North Carolina at 6:30 Thursday morning. Another caravan from California was already en route. Three chartered buses from across Texas -- San Antonio, Dallas and Houston -- planned to ride through the night and arrive near the French Quarter just after dawn.

The coordinated effort was expected to link more than 500 immigrant activists from nearly 20 states for a rally Friday morning, a public display of the community’s pent up frustrations over each day the executive measures, known as DACA and DAPA, are delayed.

“When you’re undocumented, it affects every minute of your life,” said Moreno, a Texas-based organizer. “And having DAPA be so close to being realized and then having it be taken away, it’s making people more politicized and active.”

The hopeful optimism that more than four million undocumented immigrants would be allowed to freely live and temporarily work in the U.S. has slowly given way to the harsh realities that those opportunities remain far out of reach. A lawsuit brought by Texas and 25 other states has shackled the executive measures for months. The administration has vowed to exhaust every legal option to appeal the lawsuit. But it is likely that the legal battle will drag on for another year and rely on the U.S. Supreme Court to ultimately decide.

Still hundreds of people are gathering at the steps of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal in New Orleans Friday in the face of stacked odds unlikely to play out in their favor.

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“A lot of people see this as a political attack on immigrant communities,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center. “People are not banking their hopes on this decision. But folks will be watching and hoping that the court will be able to put politics aside and not see this as a politicized immigration issue.”

The administration’s legal trouble with Obama’s 2014 executive actions began this past February, when District Court Judge Andrew Hanen in Texas placed a temporary freeze on the measures while the court decided on the merits of the lawsuit. The administration tried and failed to appeal Hanen’s preliminary injunction in a decision that came down in May. Now, the Department of Justice will get a second chance before the same court that rejected them, this time to prove they will ultimately prevail in the lawsuit.

When attorneys from both sides present their case before the Fifth Circuit on Friday, they will be arguing before two familiar faces in the most notoriously conservative courts in the country. Judges Jennifer Elrod and Jerry E. Smith, both of whom decided against the administration in the last round, will once again preside over the case. Judge Carolyn Dineen King, considered a moderate and appointed by President Jimmy Carter, rounds out the three-judge panel hearing the case.

It is an unusual match-up to have the same two judges on the same case and one that does not bode well for the administration. Though a final decision will not come for several weeks, it is likely the Department of Justice will need to appeal up to the U.S. Supreme Court in the fall, punting the issue squarely into the 2016 presidential election.

Though knowing that the next occupant of the Oval Office could have a dramatic impact over whether Obama’s legacy through the executive actions will continue beyond 2016, grassroots immigrant rights groups say their communities have yet to coalesce around a particular presidential candidate. But already the mood on the ground is starting to shift.

Both of 20-year-old Fernanda Herrera’s parents would have benefited from DAPA. Having lived nearly two decades in Alabama, where legislators have tested some of the most aggressive anti-immigrant laws in the country, the executive actions would do wonders to help their small Mexican restaurant and bring back their customers who fled under the state’s harsh conditions.

While her parents, like many in older generations, seem pessimistic that they’ll ever receive the deportation protection under the executive action, Herrera remains hopeful that she and the busload of activists leaving from Birmingham to New Orleans will inspire change.

“We’re sacrificing those eight hours for the drive. We’re sacrificing whatever money that we could have made working Friday,” Herrera said.

“It’s knowing that all of these sacrifices, little by little, add up to a lot.”