Lawyers and staff across the firm sprang into action on Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, after the Trump administration issued an executive order halting all refugee admissions and temporarily banning people from seven Muslim- majority countries. More than 40 DWT lawyers and staff, at all levels of seniority, volunteered to work on-site at local airports to assist travelers affected by the ban.
International travelers from the seven countries named in the order were suddenly subject to increased scrutiny, and thousands of travelers, including legal permanent residents, were detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for hours, with several instances of people being refused entry into the United States without the benefit of consulting with lawyers to help them determine whether they qualified for relief under the various emergency court orders that were issued in the days after the executive order.
DWT lawyers Maya Yamazaki and Jose Hernandez spent many hours at Sea-Tac airport in the days immediately following the order, along with lawyers from Lane Powell and other organizations, setting up in the international baggage-claim area to make their presence and availability known to concerned relatives. They also developed a working relationship with airport officials there that helped to ease the flow of information and lessen the lengths of detentions in secondary screening. Some of these families included legal permanent residents, who, despite having a legal right to enter into the United States, were nonetheless being turned back to their countries of origin, while others were subjected to long detentions, causing family members who were waiting for them at the airport to worry about their status.
Because CBP refused to disclose to the volunteer attorneys, or the detainees’ families, who was under detention, a group of attorneys decided to organize shifts and be on hand at the airport to determine whether or not anyone had been detained (by talking to relatives left waiting at the airport), and, if so, to help facilitate their release by liaising with airport security, CBP, and the families.
The teams also distributed business cards, providing contact info for several immigrant assistance groups, translated into Farsi, Arabic, and Pashto.
Lawyers in Los Angeles, led by Jennifer Brockett, formed a response team called LA Action Team to identify lawyers who want to volunteer and to keep everyone updated on opportunities to help. In San Francisco, Vidhya Prabhakaran spent the first weekend of the executive order as an assistant coordinator spreading the call for volunteers among the minority bar associations.
Said Jaime Drozd Allen, a partner in our Seattle office: “Seeing the number of people and families impacted made me revisit why I became a lawyer. I want to make sure people know they have a right to legal representation and people are willing to help and advocate for them.”
Said Jose Hernandez, an associate in our Seattle office: “While volunteering at the airport, I got to see the very real effect the U.S. Constitution has in our daily lives. I got to help family after family from multiple countries go from thinking they would never again see their relative who was being detained, to eventually facilitating their tearful reunion. To me this was one of the most concrete examples of the importance of upholding the oath we took as attorneys to ‘support the Constitution of the United States.’”
Said Annette Gililland, a paralegal in Seattle: “One morning we calmed a husband waiting for his young
wife who was traveling from Sudan on an expired visa and the adult children of an elderly couple also traveling to the U.S. from Sudan for the first time; both required wheelchair assistance and neither spoke any English. The relief and joy at the eventual reunions of these and many others was heartwarming.”
Said Omar Vasquez, an associate in Seattle: “Many passersby expressed support for us being present, including airport personnel.”
Volunteers at airports also included: Justin Alt; Louisa Barash; Tyler Cantrell; Timothy Chou; James Corning; Christine Hawkins; Chris Helm; Kate Tylee Herz; Bruce E. H. Johnson; Wendy Kearns; Julien Kern; Sunny Knight; Susuk Lim; Christian Mecham; Vedika Mehera; Robert Miller; Chris Morley; Nara Neves; Julie Orr; Vicki Osborn; Ruben Pagán; Martha Phelps; Michele Radosevich; Michael Reiss; Jibraun Riaz; Erica Rosales; Sinem Sahin; Shirin Soleman; Walker Stanovsky; Sara Suryan; Angela Vogel; Megan Vogel; Heather Wight-Axling; Laura-Lee Williams; Tom Wyrwich; Jennifer Zayas.