While President Donald Trump’s travel ban affecting seven majority Muslim countries is in flux, a new web application started in Seattle that connects attorneys with immigrants and refugees coming into the United States remains a highly used resource.
“It’s really been a while since trying to get into this country, trying to get through an airport, has been this scary,” said Takao Yamada, attorney and co-founder of Airport Lawyer.
Created just 48 hours after its conception, Airport Lawyer lets immigrants with valid U.S. visas and green cards notify volunteer attorneys posted at airports across the country when they plan to arrive, so lawyers can provide any potential legal assistance that may be required.
“Even while the ban remains stayed by the ninth circuit, people are still understandably concerned,” said Greg McLawsen, founder of Sound Immigration and co-founder of Airport Lawyer.
Despite what Trump told media during a press conference on Thursday, the rollout of his travel ban following a Jan. 27 executive order did not go smoothly, especially for many people who had for years been legally living in the United States.
The countries affected were Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen and Somalia, and resulted in detentions in airports around the country of many travelers that possessed valid U.S. visas and green cards.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Trump and the Homeland Security department on Jan. 30, requesting injunctive relief from the ban on grounds it is unconstitutional. This came after a weekend of protests at Sea-Tac International Airport, where several travelers had been detained.
U.S. District Judge James Robart halted the ban, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his decision. Trump has plans to unleash a new executive order on travel restrictions this week.
McLawsen said he was at a grocery store on Friday, Feb. 3, when he received a tweet from Joshua Lenon, a data privacy lawyer at Clio, a legal practice management software company.
“He basically gave me an open-ended offer of, ‘We’re concerned about the situation, how can we help,’ ” McLawsen said. “I said, ‘I don’t know, let me make some calls.’ ”
He called Yamada, who had been volunteering his legal support at Sea-Tac, and asked him what technology would help the effort.
“I have to have been at the airport for at least 60 hours since the order came down,” Yamada said. “Helping people where I can is the best I’ve felt since the election.”
Yamada told McLawsen the problem was with intake — knowing when travelers would be arriving and where. The initial process had consisted of walking up to people of Middle Eastern descent and asking them if they were expecting a relative from abroad. Attorneys also benefit from having time to prepare, Yamada said.
Clio and AI software platform producer Neota Logic got to work that weekend — pro bono — and Airport Lawyer launched Monday, Feb. 6.
The application started with Seattle, but now there are about 24 airports in the network.
“There was a lot of demand for exactly this tool,” Yamada said, “because a lot of airports had this problem.”
Information runs through Neota’s private server in New York, offering protection from third-party interference, McLawsen said.
Airport Lawyer will soon be available in Somali, Arabic and Farsi. The online tool can also be quickly adapted to address new restrictions, McLawsen said.
“From the get-go, we knew this was not going to be the last restrictive policy put in place by our dear president,” he said.
Yamada said people using Airport Attorney have mostly been from predominantly Muslim countries, but users are also coming from East Asia and Eastern Europe.
“We see all kinds of travelers,” he said. “We’ve had refugees come through. We’ve had green card holders. We’ve had people who are here on work visas come through.”
Things have calmed down since Trump lost his court battle to have his travel ban reinstated, but McLawsen doesn’t think that will last long.
“We’ve got the president saying, ‘Stand by, because we’re going to fire off a new executive order any day now.’ ”