Last week President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning visitors and immigrants flying from various countries from getting into the United States. When word got out that people were being detained at airports because of the order, people ran to their nearest airport to protest.
Among the protesters were immigration lawyers ready to work pro bono and help the detainees and their families. While thousands of people protested outside the international terminals, lawyers were inside talking to families of the detained travelers.
When the ban was first announced, the International Refugee Assistance Project sent out an email asking immigration lawyers to go to their nearest airport to volunteer. They were asked to go in shifts in order to keep people there for 24 hours. More than 100 lawyers volunteers in the first round.
They had no idea how many people would need their assistance. They didn’t have the numbers of how many people were being detained. No matter who they talked to, no one had any real answers, but they still went.
Michelle Miao was one of the lawyers present at JFK International Airport last Saturday night. When she was interviewed there were already 80 lawyers working around the clock and they were expecting another 20.
"We're trying to help detainees," Miao said. "This initiative is happening all over America."
All around the United States, lawyers sat in airports, turned waiting areas into pop-up offices and went to work. To their delight, on Saturday night a federal judge issued a stay blocking any deportation of any of the airport detainees with legal paperwork allowing them to gain entry into the United States.
The stay just prevented deportation, but it did not say that those travelers could freely enter into the United States. Some of the detainees have been released, but other immigrants and visitors were still stuck in airports all over this country.
While news of the stay spread and the protesters celebrated, this did not mean that the immigration lawyers were done. They stayed in airports in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle and more and continued to do their work.
While their signs did help them find the families so they could try to help the detainees, the problem goes much deeper. These lawyers have never dealt with a situation like the one we are currently in. The executive order that was signed denies entry to people who are legally allowed to enter the United States.
Once the lawyers find the detainee, they have a few options. They can sign a habeas corpus petition that demands that the detainee be allowed to go before a judge. They can also ask to schedule a "credible fear interview" in which the detained immigrant would ask for asylum if their home is too dangerous to go back to.
Another volunteer lawyer named Marissa Ram explains, "for folks now in detentions, this is a shot at trying to get them some sort of status to get them in asylum proceedings."
Whatever happens, it doesn’t look like these lawyers are giving up without a fight.