A dancing, singing, drum-banging troupe of DACA recipients strode loudly into Philadelphia on Friday, marking the halfway point of a New York-to-Washington march to save a program that allows migrants who were illegally brought as children to live and work in the United States.

They arrived, several said, with sore feet but strong spirits.

“The American people support us,” said Carolina Fung Feng, 30, noting that people along the route readily donated supplies, “and they’re showing us their love.”

Fung Feng, whose parents brought her to the U.S. from China, is a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit over the fate of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. That Obama-era program allowed about 790,000 young immigrants brought by their parents to live, work, and attend school in America without fear of deportation.

They do not receive citizenship or legal status, but are able to register for renewable two-year deferments.

Glo Choi, 27, of Chicago, is one of the marchers going all the way from New York to Washington. He trumpets at the rally to support DACA at Philadelphia City Hall on Friday.
BAIDI WANG / Staff Photographer
Glo Choi, 27, of Chicago, is one of the marchers going all the way from New York to Washington. He trumpets at the rally to support DACA at Philadelphia City Hall on Friday.

President Donald Trump ended DACA in September 2017, but the courts blocked that termination so legal challenges could be heard. Since then, DACA holders have lived in limbo, wondering if they’ll be deported to countries they don’t know, where they’ve never lived, and where they may not speak the language.

The core issue for the high court is whether President Barack Obama had the authority to create the program without approval from Congress.

DACA opponents say he could not legally do so. And they say the federal government must enforce immigration laws fairly and equally, without special provisions and exceptions based on age. The blame for the situation, they say, rests with immigrant parents who knowingly broke the law.

Critics call DACA a reward for bad behavior, one sure to make the country an “amnesty magnet” for undocumented people.

With or without an active DACA program, the number of migrants arriving at the nation’s southern border has surged — up 87% in a year, from 521,090 in fiscal 2018 to 977,509 in fiscal 2019, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The “Home is Here” march started Oct. 26 at the Statue of Liberty in New York and is scheduled to conclude in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on Nov. 12, the day arguments are to commence.

“The significance of marching is to show we’re willing to put our bodies on the line for a cause we really believe in,” said Sam Yu, spokesperson for main organizer NAKASEC, the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium.

On Friday, about 30 marchers who arrived at the north apron of City Hall were quickly joined by another 30 or more supporters, all demanding restoration of a full and functioning DACA system.

City Councilwoman Helen Gym welcomed the travelers to “a proud sanctuary city, established by immigrants,” and one that fully endorsed the marchers’ “vision of freedom and justice here in America.”

Ismary Co, right, raises her fist while she protests alongside DACA recipients and supporters during their stop in Philadelphia. The group is marching from New York City to Washington, intending to arrive outside the Supreme Court on Nov. 12.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Ismary Co, right, raises her fist while she protests alongside DACA recipients and supporters during their stop in Philadelphia. The group is marching from New York City to Washington, intending to arrive outside the Supreme Court on Nov. 12.

Glo Choi, 27, had traveled from Chicago to New York to join the march.

“I’m undocumented,” he said. “But now I’m also unafraid. … Home is not just where you’re from. Home is where you are. And where you want to be.”

Choi, born in Korea, came to the U.S. with his parents when he was a child. They stayed after his sister was diagnosed with autism, believing that was best for her health, he said.

About 200 people signed on to walk all or part of the route, with 25 of them intent on traveling all 230 miles from start to finish.

On their way here, marchers sang and danced to Korean drums, talked to people they met about the protest, and sometimes disrupted traffic to publicize their cause. At night, they usually have slept in quarters provided by churches.

The march also supports migrants living in the U.S. under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), a special immigration category that allows about 320,000 people from 10 countries to live and work here because of floods, droughts, epidemics, or violence in their home nations.

The program was not meant to be permanent when enacted by Congress in 1990, but some countries never recovered from natural disaster and many TPS holders dread forced returns to their violent homelands. Trump’s attempts to end TPS for some countries also have been blocked by the courts.

“This immigration system is broken,” said Germinha Gabriel, 18, a TPS holder from Haiti who lives in Philadelphia. “Rather than giving me a path to citizenship, it gives me a temporary protection.”