Say what you will about lawyers – jokes about money, greed, or general lack of decorum – but they don’t blink in the face of a legal crisis. On January 27th, the Trump Administration issued an executive order that put severe restrictions on the immigration of individuals from seven primarily Muslim countries into the United States. The unexpected timing of the order meant that some number of immigrants were left stranded in U.S. airports, having arrived in and been denied entry to the United States but also not having yet been formally deported. Despite a relatively limited opportunity for financial remuneration, lawyers flocked to local airports to provide legal assistance to these stranded individuals.
The numbers are not definitive but over 650 attorneys have volunteered for the project. Over two dozen lawsuits were filed on behalf of detainees in several states, winning court rulings that temporarily blocked the government from deporting those with valid visas.
Beyond their work at airports, many lawyers have joined together using technology. They have established their presences on the web, including NoBanUsa.com, connected with clients using Google Forms and signup.com, got the word out using Facebook and Twitter, and they’re collecting supplies using Google Forms and Amazon Wishlist. Lawyer service providers have jumped into the mix too. The law practice management company Clio is providing free access to their law practice management platform and legal research companies Fastcase and Ravel Law are providing immigration attorneys by providing free access to relevant immigration-related resources.
By early February, tech-savvy lawyers had launched custom solutions to aid in the effort. Inspired by Joshua Lenon from Clio immigration attorney Greg McLawsen from Seattle, Washington worked together with Ryan McClead from the legal technology company Neota Logic to launch www.airportlawyer.org, a technology that serves as a notification point that collects information from travelers, their families, and friends about the individuals arriving in the United States from a “travel ban” country. Airport Lawyer shares this information with groups of volunteer attorneys who monitor arrivals at airports and can offer assistance.
Taking a stand
But it’s not only lawyers on the front lines who have played a crucial role in the crisis. On the evening of Friday, February 3rd, a lawsuit filed by Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson put a halt to the ban. As a result, airlines that had been told to stop seating certain individuals on US-bound flights were instructed to reverse that action and began allowing previously prohibited individuals to fly to the United States.
Meanwhile, the general public has taken to the internet, seeking more information on the United States immigration system in general and greater clarity on the executive order in specific. Traffic into the immigration section of the Avvo’s Q&A forum doubled and immigration-related searches on Avvo jumped 152% between the week before the executive order and the week after.
Lawyers’ answers in the Avvo’s free Q&A forum underscored unpredictability in both the legal status and interpretation of the order. One individual in Los Angeles asked whether an individual who had been arrested without being charged would qualify as a top priority for deportation under the new Executive Order. Most lawyers agreed that such a person would not be a priority but other lawyers suggested that both interpretation of the order and any subsequent orders could change that assessment.
Another individual, one who had been convicted of a misdemeanor, wished to travel to New Zealand to visit family. Many attorney answerers noted that because New Zealand was not on the list of countries listed in the Executive Order immigrants from New Zealand should not be subject to any additional restrictions under the Executive Order. Still, those same attorneys and others suggested that the individual refrain from travel in light of the unpredictable circumstances surrounding the Executive Order.
Lawyers are not necessarily the most popular group. A Pew Research Study from a few years back indicated that, compared to a group of other professionals, lawyers contributed least to society’s well-being. Still, whether from opportunism or altruism, lawyers have sprung into action in the uncertain and rapidly changing legal environment created by the recent immigration order providing valuable and needed guidance to people who need it.