what is it exactly that all the lawyers at airports are doing? i understand that theyre there for refugees/immigrants/those affected by trumps ban, but how can they help them in that moment at the airport?
What happens is that information has to get to the attorneys on the first level. We do that multiple ways: we have attorneys (like me) and translators who roam the international gates, asking if people have been waiting for 1.5-2+ hours for their family or friends. If they say yes, we know that that’s kind of at the sweet spot for someone who may be stuck in secondary inspections, or detained, and do our intake. Another way attorneys get the information is that their numbers have been circulated enough that people who are traveling or have family traveling call ahead and let the attorneys know when someone’s flight gets in, and other pertinent information. Also, we coordinate with other groups that are involved, such as CAIR and other immigrants’ rights groups, who get us info from people who have contacted them about either traveling or having family/friends travel into that airport, at what time, why they might be at risk, and so on.
All of this information gets catalogued into a database (we’ve been using GoogleDocs because in the beginning, especially, it was such a loose operation of volunteers that we needed any system in place ASAP.
What happens then is that the attorneys work in different groups. On teh first level, you have to triage it. Some cases get priority: obviously, five children from Jordan on visitors’ visas who have been held for 6+ hours get priority over a single male from, say, Mexico, who has been held for 2 hours. These are judgment calls by the attorneys. It sucks, but not everyone can be first.
Other attorneys reach out to Customs and Border Patrol about certain people being held in secondary inspection or detainment. They get whatever information they can out of them, and keep the pressure on them to let them know attorneys are nearby and watching.
A lot of it is fact-finding; pregnant women, for example, coming in on a visa may first be required by CBP to get checked out by a doctor. Attorneys have sources in place with nearby clinics and the like to be able to know when people are being taken there, and that way they can advise worried family members and sometimes even speak to the people directly.
Some peopel are being detained. At a certain point, a right to counsel is triggered. For green card holders, for example, they have a right to due process. Someone traveling on a visa, not so much; they’re treated different as far as what their rights are and what attorneys can do for them. For green card holders, LPRs, US citizens, etc, attorneys get back there and give them advice: for example, don’t sign that I-407, dont’ sign that waiver, etc, etc. (An immigration attorney knows this part of it best; I am not an immigration attorneys so i cannot give advice about this.)
Part of it involves negotiations with CBP and other agencies, to get the person out. A big big part of it, though, is honestly just keeping the pressure up. It’s important, very important, that attorneys are staffed at national airports from 6am to midnight (which is the OHare schedule). Constant attorney presence, or near constant, tends to help law enforcement behave better. Not that they behave perfectly and follow the law 110% adn stop being jerks and racists, but they fear, rightfully so, they won’t be as easily able to get away with it.
Other attorneys, when they know someone is being detained, write motions (injunctions, declaratory jdugments) or petitions for habeas corpus, which are meant to get a person who is being detained subject to immigration laws out of custody ASAP. These get taken directly to federal judges who then have to make a decision. In Boston it was reported that tonsof attorneys, mostly female, and many dressed in their Saturday night out on the town outfits, entered a federal court house at 10pm with motions and petitions for the duty judges.
Attorneys also help coordinate the media push, which is very important because reporters on the ground are able to share stories quickly adn update as they go. Shaping the narrative is a huge part of any large scale national fight, and attorneys can be very skilled in that manner. For me, personally, I was trained that way by my boss. I know how to deal with the press, even though I hate it. Think themes, speak in soundbytes, answer hte question YOU want to be asked, not the question you were actually asked. Things like that.
I have the pleasure of being friends with teh woman heading the operation at Dulles. Fantastic immigration and criminal defense attorney, and an Afghani Muslim woman. CBP at Dulles were the worst in the nation - they ignored the court order my friend was able to obtain (with the work of the attorneys that worked under her) that staed that they had to let attorneys back there to see the people being detained.
She did get a brief chance to speak to people, though, eventually, and if there’s anything we attorneys are good at, it’s synopsizing complicated advice and rights and options into succinct orders people can follow. “If they try to drag you onto the plane out of this country,” I know she said to those being detained at Dulles, “you sit your ass down on the floor.”
This is kind of a broad overview; I’m sure an actual immigration attorney can flesh out the legal advice part better. I was not there as an immigration attorney; I was there as an attorney to insist. Working for a solo practitioner has taught me vertical representation, and how to do intakes adn gather all necessary info from a stressed and upset person. You’d be surprised, but a lot of attorneys that work for really big powerful law firms don’t know how to do this. At their firms, they know one small part of a case really really really well, but may not know much else. They may not even deal with clients directly. I did notice at ORD, for example, that most attorneys sat there and worked on their stuff, but no one was out gathering information. I think they thought people knew to come over to the McDonalds area? So me and my friend just walked back and forth for hours, doing intakes and getting that information over, which got that part of the process cemented so others coudl replace us as the shifts turned over.
Attorneys fight this ban in many ways, on many fronts, and the ones at the airports are all volunteers. Immigration isn’t in my bag of tricks beyond the basics, but I can take directions, and I’m happy to work under attorneys who knwo more than I do (because when the tables are turned, other attorneys work under me and do what I tell them to do). We have certain skills, and the ones that are at the airports, we feel called to use them in a way that helps people instead of hurts them. (There are more than enough lawyers who hurt people, including the disgraces to the Bar that are part of this administration.) Hope that helps!