NEW YORK: Lawyers armed with laptops, smartphones and legal papers have since Saturday transformed an airport diner into a headquarters of resistance to Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban.
They have worked around the clock from the space of 20 odd tables at the restaurant in the arrivals hall at John F. Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 4 to free travelers stopped or detained by the decree.
Work stations have been earmarked by small white signs — a corner for Arabic language interpreters, another saying “habeas corpus” for lawyers filing requests for people’s release and tables set aside for new volunteers.
Even on Monday, by which time most of those stopped had been released, more than 20 volunteer lawyers were still inquiring after new arrivals and fielding concerns from worried travelers by telephone.
About 20 more are working at other terminals in the airport, said Camille Mackler, a lawyer for a non-profit group that advocates for immigrants and who has been helping to coordinate the work since Saturday.
“I think more than anything it sends the absolutely wrong message to Americans and to the rest of the world,” the 37-year-old.
Friday’s order unleashed chaos for refugees and visa holders already in transit and unaware that American borders had suddenly closed to those from seven Muslim countries.
“But I’m also so proud of the lawyers, of all people, the butt of so many bad jokes — who have just sort of stood up and helped,” said Mackler.
“One of my friends said it was our moment to be rock stars and I’m kind of feeling like a rock star right now.”
Jason Stump, 29, turned up with a friend to see if there was anything they could do to help. He works as a hotel receptionist in Manhattan and had been stuck at work all weekend.
“This was the first day we could come out to show our solidarity with the lawyers who are doing such important work,” he said.
“We need to figure out how we can best help people.”
Siobhan Atkins, 29, who specializes in criminal defense, greeted them with a smile.
Like lots of other lawyers here, some without immigration experience, it is the first time she has acted in protest against the government.
“This weekend, I felt so helpless, it feels the country is changing so quickly, we don’t recognize the place we love anymore,” she told AFP.
She went onto Facebook, found a website for lawyers who defend people in detention, and volunteered her services.
On Sunday night, she arranged the day off from work and registered for a 7:00 am shift at the airport.
“It’s the first time I do something like that. It’s great. That shows how powerful people can be if they get together,” Atkins said.
It’s also the first time for Mark Hanna, 29, a general practice lawyer from Brooklyn who has found a new sense of importance to his work.
A lawyer friend called him from JFK on Saturday to ask him if he wanted to come.
He came for several hours, then returned on Sunday, staying until 1:00 am at Terminal 7, trying to find information on people detained and writing release requests for those he could identify.
Among those he helped was an Algerian green card holder, who emerged in tears after being questioned for hours even though his country was not on the list of the targeted countries.
“It sucks, just because he’s brown… they asked him all sorts of questions and went through all his stuff in his laptop,” said Hanna.
“This is the first time I have ever been on the ground helping out people in this kind of way,” he said.
“I’m going to be hoping he (Trump) does not do anything else that crazy. But at this point I’m galvanized.
“If anything else happens, I am definitely involved.” AFP