Advocates, Lawyers Head Back To Airports In Wake Of New Travel Ban

In the wake of Trump's new version of the old executive order, those seeking to help travelers are returning

Volunteer lawyers signs offering services at JFK on February 1, 2017 — Corbis via Getty Images
Mar 07, 2017 at 3:02 PM ET

The Trump administration rolled out its second stab at a ban on refugees and travelers from Muslim majority countries on Monday. Unlike the first chaotic attempt, this ban will roll out slowly, in hopes it will avoid the legal issues that killed the first iteration. But for activists and lawyers who gathered almost instantly to challenge the initial executive order, little has changed — except this time they have more time to plan to fight back.

“We’re infinitely better equipped,” said Takao Yamada, a Seattle-based attorney and tech entrepreneur who helped found Airport Lawyers after showing up at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 27. “There’s a huge difference between now and then. When we started following the first executive order it was totally ad-hoc, a collection of individual volunteers. Now we’ve built this terrific network and tools.”

Airport Lawyers is a web service created by volunteer attorneys, political organizers, and two tech companies, CLIO and Neota. It helps pair travelers and their awaiting families with volunteer lawyers at 19 international airports within the U.S. It was created in the three days following the initial ban and is now fully operational and has been translated into Arabic and Farsi.

“It was chaotic, it was very intense,” Yamada said, reflecting on the airport scene in late January after the first ban. “Lawyers [had been] wandering around baggage claim essentially harassing people who looked worried to see if they needed help.”

It’s just one of a host of new tools at the disposal of lawyers hoping to fight the ban. A project from the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Travelers Assistance Project serves a registration form to travelers and their loved ones who are worried that they will face problems coming to Chicago in order to connect them with legal aid.

Another web project created during an NYC “Hack The Ban” hackathon is similarly well underway. Called “Border Buddy,” the soon-to-be-released mobile app allows travelers concerned about getting held up by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to “check in” prior to their flight, stating their estimated arrival time. This way, if the user fails to check in again upon exiting the airport, a volunteer lawyer will be contacted on their behalf.

Alongside tech solutions, volunteer lawyers are also ramping up for more in-person intervention at the airports, in preparation for when the revised ban goes into effect on March 16. A group called No Ban JFK, which describes itself as a collection of volunteer attorneys and translators, tweeted out Monday that they were heading back to the airport.

Shifts of volunteer lawyers at O’Hare International Airport have also reportedly been standing by for the 38 days since the first executive order was introduced. That group, called ORD Lawyers HQ, also posted Monday to make sure their presence was known.

Another group of lawyers and volunteers organizing at Dulles International Airport have also maintained a presence, meeting with Gold Star father Khizr Khan on Friday, whose own travel rights are now reportedly “being reviewed.” The group posted an update on Monday calling for more volunteers.

“We’re better positioned, but it’s tough to be ‘prepared,'” said Yamada. “As we’ve seen, this administration is pretty fundamentally unpredictable. We’re getting to our best state of readiness…but without knowing exactly what we’re facing it’s tough to know.”