A rotating team of lawyers has remained at JFK Airport to help travelers caught in the crosshairs of President Trump's ban on foreigners from seven Muslim majority countries. "We're keeping the presence at all the different terminals," Camille Mackler, director of legal initiatives at the New York Immigration Coalition, said Sunday night.
Trump's order, signed on Friday afternoon, prohibits refugees and citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the U.S. (The action had initially included green card holders, but a White House official changed course on Sunday morning.) This led to hundreds of people being detained at airports across the country (including a 5-year-old boy), resulting in a federal stay being issued after an emergency court hearing.
Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Queens) was at the airport speaking to Customs and Border Patrol. He said that six people remained in detention. However, Mackler said that lawyers, based on their records and communication with families, believe that as many as 20 detainees remained from the initial 52 detained. She said it's possible that some people may have been released and records weren't updated.
Mackler explained that lawyers are trying to be near the gates at Terminals 1, 4, 5, 7 and 8 for any flights arriving from Europe and the Middle East. "We're not soliciting," she emphasized, but they are trying to make themselves known to families. "We're here if they need help."
Hundreds of lawyers from big firms and non-profits are volunteering their time and energy to help the immigrants, They shared some anecdotes about the detainees at JFK Airport:
- Two detainees, the 60 year-old father and 30 year-old brother of a United States Citizen cancer researcher. The new grandfather and uncle were on their way to meet the researcher’s four-day-old son, but were detained for 30 hours. The cancer researched slept in a chair in the airport away from his new baby, unsure of what would happen to his family.
“We were very nervous, they were not Green Card holders” said Maria Romani of the Brooklyn Defender Services, who helped represent the two detainees. “When the grandfather came out, he was so grateful. He said ‘I love the people of New York’” added Romani.
- A father and son from Iran were detained for 33 hours. No beds were provided. The father and son were then presented with the option of accepting a deportation back to Iran and being banned from entering the U.S. for five years, or facing potentially indefinite detention. They had signed the waiver, stating that they felt coerced into doing so, however their temporary stay was eventually granted and they were ultimately released.
- A 65 year-old Sudanese woman with diabetes, a Green Card holder, was detained upon her return from a trip to Cairo for a medical procedure and Sudan to visit her family.
Kyle Dandelet, Senior Staff Attorney at the Sanctuary for Families, Immigration Intervention Project, who represented the 65 year-old woman, said, “I don’t even know what [this] means to me yet. It was great to see so many fellow attorneys coming out, [but] incredibly depressing waiting with the family. There was a terrible lack of information.”
- Another case involved a 75 year-old woman from Libya with Parkinson’s disease. She has a pending Green Card application and was detained upon her arrival to JFK. She was on her way back from seeing her sister in Libya, who was terminally ill and died during the visit. She had been granted permission to travel due to her sister’s illness, yet she was still detained upon her return.
— Rep. Joe Crowley (@repjoecrowley) January 30, 2017
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) January 30, 2017
The group—whose ranks are being mobilized by the Urban Justice Center, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, American Civil Liberties Union and more organizations—also noted that that "non-legal volunteers, community members, and even people who had just gotten off their flights offered their time and energy to support the effort."
Mackler said, "I think people reacted to how fundamentally un-American the [Executive Orders] and values put forth are. This is what has propelled people to the streets, what has pushed people out there to protest and to keep showing up. Lawyers have a skill and want to put it to work—they came out to the point that we had to turn people away. This all has been overwhelming but amazing."
— Emma Whitford (@emma_a_whitford) January 30, 2017
The Department of Homeland Security said in a statement today:
"We are committed to ensuring that all individuals affected by the executive orders, including those affected by the court orders, are being provided all rights afforded under the law. We are also working closely with airline partners to prevent travelers who would not be granted entry under the executive orders from boarding international flights to the U.S. Therefore, we do not anticipate that further individuals traveling by air to the United States will be affected.
As Secretary Kelly previously stated, in applying the provisions of the president's executive order, the entry of lawful permanent residents is in the national interest. Accordingly, absent significant derogatory information indicating a serious threat to public safety and welfare, lawful permanent resident status will be a dispositive factor in our case-by-case determinations.
We are and will remain in compliance with judicial orders. We are and will continue to enforce President Trump’s executive order humanely and with professionalism. DHS will continue to protect the homeland.
Reporting by Emma Whitford