Hundreds of members of the American legal community faced similar hurdles as they flocked to airports nationwide over the weekend to defend and represent people they’d never seen or met. About 50 attorneys huddled inside a “war room” at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport in Texas, pressing for word from unresponsive officials about the fate of nine travelers detained there. All were eventually released on Sunday afternoon; Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings personally apologized to them for their “unacceptable” ordeal. At JFK International Airport in New York City, a horde of lawyers took over the Central Diner in Terminal 4 and began writing petitions on behalf of more than two dozen people who had been denied entry.
Beyond the airports themselves, the entire Customs and Border Protection agency had also apparently gone silent. Telephone calls to CBP public-affairs officials from Arizona to Puerto Rico on Sunday went unanswered. Automated voice messages on both the CBP and Department of Homeland Security’s primary media-inquiry phone numbers invited callers to leave messages in voicemail inboxes that were already full.
To fill that void, lawyers and some protesters at Dulles held signs aloft in English, French, German, Arabic, and Farsi outside the international arrivals terminal, each one asking travelers if they had seen anyone being detained during their voyage. Had they seen other passengers taken off airplanes? Had someone been taken away at their point of departure? Was anyone pulled aside during the primary screening checkpoint at Customs? Family members looking for relatives who hadn’t appeared after their flight arrived also provided useful information about who was potentially missing, Seddiq said. But questions were many and answers too few.
“You get conflicting reports, of course, of what people were doing because people aren’t paying attention,” she told me. “I think right now there’s a lot of fear too, so people are just not looking around, just getting off flights as quickly as they can.”
Supporting this effort was a group of volunteer lawyers from the D.C. area, the army that my colleague Kaveh Waddell saw assembling on Saturday. More than two-thirds of them were young women; many were people of color. Participants identified themselves by writing their names on stickers in different color markers: red for lawyers with immigration experience, blue for those with foreign-language skills, black for any other attorneys who wanted to help. Their legal backgrounds also varied. Some came from high-profile law firms in the heart of the nation’s capital. Others specialized in immigration law and suddenly found their career’s path intersecting with a major political crisis.
Among those who offered their aid was John McGlothlin, a former Army paratrooper who used the G.I. Bill to attend law school after 14 years of military service, including tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. “I came here when I saw the Trump administration was not following the judicial orders to let in people who live here legally,” he told me. “I didn’t fight to bring the rule of law to other countries to see it ignored here.”