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Monday, June 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Lawyers Clamor for Access to Travelers Detained Under Muslim Ban

More than 36 hours after a federal judge ordered such relief, volunteer attorneys at Dulles International Airport are fighting Monday to physically meet with travelers detained under President Trump's immigration ban.

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WASHINGTON (CN) - More than 36 hours after a federal judge ordered such relief, volunteer attorneys at Dulles International Airport are fighting Monday to physically meet with travelers detained under President Trump's immigration ban.

"At this time some telephone access is being facilitated," Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg with Virginia-based Legal Aid Justice Center said in an email.

It is unclear how much contact has been made, but Sandoval-Moshenberg indicated that a hotline number has been set up to handle inquiries.

Staff and volunteers at the Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition received a handful of calls by Monday morning, Claudia Cubas, senior director of the coalition's Detained Adult Program, said in an email.

“All have been people who are either waiting at deferred inspection or are family members of people stranded or having a difficult time gaining permission to board planes abroad,” Cubas added.

She noted that the group includes an elderly couple who emigrated to the United States to reunite with their U.S. citizen daughter and another couple in their 60s with green cards.

The latter couple has been living in the United States for several years and were returning from a trip abroad.

President Donald Trump tweeted out this morning that only 109 travelers have been detained or questioned since Friday night when he signed an executive order instituting a 120-day halt of refugee admissions and a 90-day bar on entry to the United States by visa holders from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Though a senior official at the White House hailed implementation of the executive order on Sunday as having been done "seamlessly" and with "extraordinary professionalism,” it was a story of confusion as the scene played out on the ground at Dulles for travelers from the banned countries - Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.

Sandoval-Moshenberg and Mayer Brown attorneys Andrew Pincus and Paul Hughes filed a habeas petition for two Yemeni brothers who were detained at Dulles on Saturday afternoon.

Their filing counts 50 to 60 detained travelers at Dulles on Saturday alone.

Sons of a U.S. citizen, the two Yemeni brothers, 21-year-old Tareq Aqel Mohammed Aziz and 19-year-old Ammar Aqel Mohammed Aziz are green card holding lawful permanent residents of the United States.

At around the same time a federal court in Brooklyn was ordering similar relief for a stranded traveler at Kennedy Airport, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema granted a temporary restraining order at around 9 p.m. Saturday to let the Aziz brothers meet with their attorneys. Brinkema’s order also applies to dozens of other volunteer attorneys who gathered at Dulles to help travelers in limbo.

"Respondents shall permit lawyers access to all legal permanent residents being detained at Dulles International Airport," the order states. "Respondents are forbidden from removing petitioners - lawful permanent residents at Dulles International Airport - for a period of 7 days from the issuance of this order.”

After the Azizes were denied entry to the United States, however, they were deported back to the country they flew in from, Ethiopia.

The Azizes’ removal underscores the confusion that the Trump administration denies existed surrounding implementation of the executive order, and whom it applied to.


Gen. John Kelly with the Department of Homeland Security said in a statement Sunday night that he deems the entry of lawful permanent residents "to be in the national interest," absent any derogatory information pointing to a security risk.

There is still no clarity about how many lawful permanent residents were deported, how many might still be detained and how many have been granted entry to the country at airports across the country.

Sandoval-Moshenberg told Slate on Sunday that his clients were handcuffed while detained and were made to sign an I-407 form, under threat of being barred from the United States for five years. Signing the form reportedly caused the men to lose their green cards.

Hassan Ahmad with the Virginia-based HMA law firm said the case of the Yemeni brothers highlights why "access to counsel is so important.”

Ahmad was among the volunteer attorneys who showed up at Dulles Saturday and Sunday.

"The Supreme Court recognizes it, and that's why they made immigration advice part of a Sixth Amendment right, because you're dealing with the possibility of permanent banishment from the country you call home," Ahmad said Monday in a phone interview.


Reports that Customs and Border Protection officials have been resisting the temporary restraining order are "disturbing,” Ahmad added.

"This is what the check and balance is there for," he said of the judiciary's ability to reign in executive overreach.

"When the executive steps too far, the judiciary says 'nope, you can't do that,'" Ahmad noted.

The Dulles arrival area was teeming in the mid-afternoon Saturday with hundreds of boisterous protesters and lawyers. In addition to name tags identifying themselves as attorneys, the group held up signs that read "free legal assistance."

Sari Long, who does pro-bono work for the International Refugee Assistance Project, said the travelers affected by Trump’s order includes family members of U.S. citizens, people with student and work visas, and interpreters and translators who risked their lives to assist U.S. forces in Iraq.

Long quoted a ramp worker at Dulles as telling the attorneys that as many as 20 travelers had been deported. Courthouse News has not been able to confirm that.

"Once you arrive in the United States, no matter what your status is, you're entitled to due process," Long said. "You are entitled to a hearing, you are entitled to an opportunity to explain what you're seeking admittance for.”

"For any of the green card holders who have been turned away or sent back, it is a major issue,” she added. “Because there is no statutory basis upon which you can deny entrance to a green card holder, unless they've broken laws.”

The volunteer attorneys worked quickly and organized spontaneously. Several brought in printers and set up a makeshift office on the floor to create intake forms in Arabic and Persian for affected travelers.

When they needed to communicate as a group, one would yell out "mic check" while the others gathered around. They communicated in chants so they could hear the instructions or updates over the protesters' loud chants and cheers.

The leader would utter a sentence, and the others would repeat it so that the instructions could be heard by all of the attorneys.

At one point after Brinkema's order came down, the attorneys fanned out into the crowd to find help from volunteer interpreters. Soon, the translators could be seen wearing nametags identifying them as interpreters.

Among those wandering around the crowd was Mariam from Baghdad, Iraq. The sign she was carrying said, "I'm Iraqi I'm a victim not a threat." Mariam declined to give her last name, saying she went to Dulles to support her brothers and sisters.

A student at Strayer University, Mariam has been in Virginia for a year. She called the immigration ban against her country "unfair."

"We are the victims of ISIS,” said Mariam. “We are on the front line. Our government is a big ally to the U.S. government so it doesn't make sense to be on that list.”

Mariam pointed to the U.S. invasion of her country as the reason why some Iraqis are trying to immigrate to the United States.

"It's unfair for us, and for everybody," Mariam added, noting that she has lost family members and friends, both under Saddam Hussein's regime and to the Islamic State group.

Laying the blame for both regimes on the United States, Mariam noted that the CIA collaborated with Hussein in the 1963s to overthrow anti-Western leader Abdel Karim Kassem, paving the way for Hussein’s rise as the Baath party took power.

Still, Mariam says she has been moved by the level of outpouring of support she has seen as protestors descended on American airports over the weekend.

"I was looking at live videos on Facebook and I was crying," she said. "Because I felt I'm not alone. We're all in this together."

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