Sometimes, there’s a crisis to which lawyers are uniquely suited to help. Late Friday, President Trump issued an executive order barring individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen—from entering the United States. Though theoretically painted as a religious-neutral ban, Trump surrogates like Rudy Giuliani acknowledged that “Trump wanted a ‘Muslim ban’ and requested [Giuliani] assemble a commission to show him ‘the right way to do it legally.'”
This unconstitutional order went into effect the minute the order was signed, which left people—people with every legal right to enter America, such as green card holders who were en route to or had just landed in the US—unable to go home.
What Did Lawyers Do?
Lawyers stepped all the way up, showing up en masse at airports to represent people on the, um, fly.
By Saturday afternoon, arrival terminals in airports from Dulles, Va., to Chicago to San Francisco were being turned into makeshift hubs for legal aid. Lawyers assembled conference-style tables in restaurants and gathered around electrical outlets with their laptops awaiting work. Some held signs near arrivals gates introducing themselves to families in need.
What began as a slapdash effort soon became more structured, particularly at Terminal 4 of John F. Kennedy International Airport in Jamaica, N.Y., the symbolic center of protest activity on Saturday and Sunday.
Lawyers also stepped up by filing multiple lawsuits against the ban, resulting in court orders, applicable nationwide, temporarily banning deportations and allowing people to go home. Lawyers continued to fight when those same orders were ignored by Customs Border Patrol, and people continued to be detained. In short, lawyers did something that only lawyers could do: leverage their expertise in the legal system to get people home.
What Can Lawyers Do?
This isn’t over. Not by a long shot. Lawyers won victories this weekend, but those victories are short-term, temporary, and stopgap. The executive order still exists—it’s enforcement has just been beaten back for a time. And there’s no indication that we won’t be facing a similar constitutional crisis down the line. Here are some things you can do when the next issue arises.
The easiest, and most obvious, is to donate. Give your money to the ACLU (although it has already received record-shattering donations over the last few days) and know that it will always be on the side of maximizing civil liberties. Donate to the American Constitutional Society, which has already expressed concern on a number of Trump-related constitutional issues, particularly relating to the Muslim ban and free speech/freedom of the press. Throw some coin at the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal representation to at-risk refugees, like LGBTI individuals, religious minorities, survivors of sexual violence, and people being threatened for having assisted the United States in the Iraq and Afghan wars.
There are immediate needs: If you live near a major port of entry, such as Dallas Fort-Worth or JFK, there is still a need for you to head down to the airport and help out. Even if you have no background whatsoever in immigration or constitutional law, you can help type up habeas petitions or look up citations or anything another lawyer might need you to do.
There are future needs: If you’ve got some pro bono capacity, reach out to a national or local immigration law center and go through training so you can assist in immigration law cases. If you are at a big firm, contact your local ACLU about handling a legal filing. The national ACLU has tons of capacity, but local chapters often rely on the good graces of volunteers who can bring firm resources to bear.
Get Smart About Security
You should be smart about your security already because you work with confidential client information every day. You need to be particularly smart here, however. Airport Wi-Fi is public Wi-Fi, and if you are working with immigrants that the executive branch has deemed undesirable, there is a very real chance that your communications could be observed.
At minimum, take the following steps:
- Use a VPN (virtual private network) when you are on public wi-fi to ensure your communications can’t be read while you’re on the public network.
- Encrypt your hard drive
- Use Signal, a secure, encrypted, easy-to-use messaging app, for client communications
These things will take you literally 15 minutes to do before you head to the airport, a volunteer meetup, or a client meeting, and will make your communications exponentially more secure.
Lawyers will be at the vanguard of fighting these battles. Leverage who you already know in your circles—you either know someone who does immigration law or someone who knows someone who does immigration law. Talk to them about what you could do to help. If you teach or know someone who does, work with them to start an IRAP chapter at a local law school so that lawyers and law students can work together on immigration cases. Get up to speed on freedom of the press issues and learn how to file successful FOIA requests. Talk to your local bar association and see if there are any affinity groups organizing around constitutional issues. Basically, do the things that lawyers already do, but do it in the service of preserving the Constitution of the United States.