Lawyers at US airports providing free legal services to people stranded due to immigration ban
For decades, immigration has been a hot topic of discussion in the U.S. The buzz surrounding it seemed to die down and then come back in full steam following the 2016 Presidential election. President Trump has a very ambitious plan for Protecting America: build a wall, ramp up the deportation of millions of illegal residents, temporarily ban entry to citizens of certain predominantly Muslim nations and put a hold on accepting Syrian refugees.
There is no doubt that many people come to the U.S. with hopes of finding a better life. Whether it is the opportunity for a better form of employment, education, or freedom, they venture here to chase the American dream. The dreams they held onto dwindled as they watched the recent election unfold. Their dreams may be gone and fear takes over. Fear that they may be separated from the life they spent years or even decades building.
The fear turned into reality for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia last Friday. Since the signing of the executive order, airlines have begun blocking people returning to or visiting the US from those seven countries. They were banned from boarding flights, and if by some luck, they got on a plane, customs greeted them with an invitation to the detention center, irrespective of them having valid visas or green cards. Conceivably, this means that an Iranian student who visited a friend in Canada for a week, may be barred from returning to class at Harvard. Alternatively, an Iraqi with wife and children here in U.S. may also be barred from entering simply because he was going on a business trip for Google.
Case in point, two Iraqi citizens were almost barred from entering. One of whom served as an interpreter for the Army’s 101st Airborne Division shortly after the invasion in 2003. The other came back to the US to re-unite with his wife who worked as a contractor for the U.S. in Iraq. Many more were stranded. But their situation highlighted the beauty and strength of our legal community. Lawyers, interpreters, and volunteers including our Founder and our CEO, rushed into airport terminals across the country to balance the scales of justice. They brought laptops and printers and began preparing petitions for habeas corpus, a request that a person under arrest be brought before a judge or court onsite. Most were filed successfully and many victims have been released as a result. The United States is a country of laws. This past weekend, we demonstrated to the world that irrespective of any specific policy, our legal system is the best in the world. The lawyers supporting it made sure of this.
Sadly, the incredible support and resources dedicated this past weekend are going to dwindle just as the American dream dwindled for many immigrants. The lack of access to legal resources, however, is only going to surge. We know this because in the United States, 80% of legal needs go unmet. Like the Iranian student who may be barred from returning to class, there is a family who may wrongfully be evicted.
This past weekend, the legal community and Americans at large have raised awareness and made record-breaking donations. Is it because of the media hype? Is it because their opposition to Trump? We sure hope not because there is a lot left to do and their support is going to be needed tomorrow.