The View Of The Executive Order From The DFW Airport Trenches
February 7, 2017 (Fault Lines) – When President Trump issued his Executive Order on Immigration, it got the attention of a lot of people, including quite a few here at Fault Lines. Caleb Kruckenberg wrote about how the EO exceeded the President’s authority. Andrew King wrote about the background of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) that put such broad powers into the President’s toolbox. Mario Machado pointed out that the order made every non-citizen an “enforcement priority.”
It would be somewhat redundant for me to write about the contents of the order, I’m not an academic, nor do I have a background in either federal courts or immigration law like my colleagues. I do have a bar card, and the ability to help out, so what I did was what about 200 other lawyers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area did; we showed up at the airport to provide legal assistance.
It was an awe-inspiring experience. The effort was called DFWDetained, and there were plenty of lawyers who signed up and volunteered their time at the airport, to provide assistance primarily to green card holders (legal permanent residents or LPRs) from the seven countries in the order. There were attorneys stationed right outside of the international arrivals gate, where friends and family of detained individuals could contact a lawyer for help.
Let’s cover what actually happened. First, the EO purported to cover LPRs under the President’s authority to restrict immigration. The problem is that an LPR is not, according to statute, seeking entry to the United States when they return, as they have already been vetted and admitted into the U.S. when they received their LPR status. In other words, they are treated as a citizen is supposed to be treated when they return home. A second problem was that the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials believed, at least initially, that they could merely remove an LPR individual from the U.S. by not allowing them to enter the country.
That’s incorrect, Congress has passed a law that covers what an LPR can be removed for, and the process that had to be used, which included legal representation and appearance in an Immigration Court. None of that was happening. We would learn of someone with an LPR being detained, would gather enough information to fill out a G‑28 form, and would attempt to present it to CBP officers.
The CBP officers would refuse to accept the G-28 (or for that matter, any other document), and at one point, locked the door so that they didn’t even have to tell us that they were not going to accept the form. The CBP officers also would not allow lawyers to provide any sort of legal representation to the LPRs who were being detained. They really didn’t even want to talk to us, not even approaching the intercom in the Plexiglas window that separated them from us. One stood as far back physically as she could from us, without leaving their office, but under no circumstances were any detainees to receive any sort of legal advice.
At that point, we would send the form and an affidavit to a “war room” where there were even more attorneys. Most of us at the gate had no immigration experience, but were criminal defense lawyers, family law attorneys, intellectual property, real estate, commercial litigation, transactional lawyers, the entire range of the law. They were all races, and all ages, and all had the same mindset, to help those detained.
In the war room, there were the organizers of the group, some immigration law attorneys, and some were preparing writs to be filed in U.S. District Court if necessary. Two local attorneys contributed $100,000 to fund the hard costs of the group, and additional funds were sought through a crowd-funding site. One of the costs was to rent a conference room at the airport Hyatt, which served as the war room.
The lawyers were organized into teams, and lawyers signed up for time slots from 5:30 a.m. to midnight every day, which provided coverage when international flights were arriving. There were three attorneys always assigned to the international gate, where signs were posted in English, Arabic, and Farsi so that families and friends could contact an attorney right at the scene. These attorneys provided general intake, gathering the necessary information to complete the G-28 and to file a writ in federal court, if necessary.
Other lawyers were in the conference room at the Hyatt, assigned to either the writ team or the research team. The writ team prepared and filed a request for a temporary restraining order and a writ for the release of a 70-year-old mother. The mother, Shahin Hassanpour, had applied for and been vetted for permanent residence, prior to the EO being issued, but she was immediately detained. Despite the fact that she had been vetted and posed no harm to the United States, CBP threatened her with a permanent ban from the U.S. if she did not sign a form withdrawing her application for admission.
So the writ team prepared a filing, not just for Ms. Hassanpour, but for all of those detained at DFW, and filed it in federal court. The filing of this action resulted in the release of the initial detainees on Sunday, after they had been held overnight, but before the judge could rule on the motion. The research team provided support for the writ team, researching case law and statutes, and coordinating with efforts in other cities.
By the end of the week, we weren’t hearing of many detainees, and the ones that were being temporarily detained were being released before we would even prepare the forms. This is a different story than some other cities, and it was a distinct difference from the start of the week, where an 11-month-old U.S. citizen was detained because the infant’s mother was a LPR from one of the listed nations. CBP would not allow the infant to be released to its U.S. citizen father, who was at the airport, merely because the mother was a foreign citizen.
The child and mother were eventually released, and it was my understanding that it was just prior to a writ of habeas corpus being filed for the child. Others had similar stories. An Iraqi man who had worked for the U.S. was detained for hours before being released. Although he had worked for our forces overseas, had been vetted and been granted a visa, CBP was ready to put him on a plane back to the Middle East. He too, was eventually released.
While I have a couple of decades of police experience, I am, in the lingo of the law, a “baby lawyer” with only a couple of years of practice under my belt. It was a learning experience for me in how a large group of lawyers can come together, and how in a way, it is like herding cats. I was fortunate to participate and I learned a lot. One thing I learned is that by mobilizing lawyers in numbers on a situation like this, you can have an effect.
This is what being a lawyer is all about, helping people that are facing the full weight of the government police power. It’s why we do what we do.
 Codified at 8 U.S.C. 1182(f).
 See § 1101(a)(13)(c).
 See § 1227.
 See § 1229.
 Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative.
 In addition to covering the costs outlined, it also paid for IT support for lawyer sign up, for online intake forms used by the attorneys to get the information to the writ team, and a couple of temporary support staff. Funds that are left over are being used to set up a non-profit organization that will respond to similar issues in the future.
 Cause number 3:17-cv-00270-K, in the Northern District of Texas.