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Website connects immigrant families with free local legal advice

Isahaq Ahmed Rabi, left, arrives at Sea-Tac Airport from Vienna and is greeted by his wife Ibado Hassan, center. Rabi is an immigrant from Somalia, one of the countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Isahaq Ahmed Rabi, left, arrives at Sea-Tac Airport from Vienna and is greeted by his wife Ibado Hassan, center. Rabi is an immigrant from Somalia, one of the countries included in President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Staff writer

A group of local lawyers has launched a website to connect immigrants and their loved ones with free legal advice at airports across the country.

The website, airportlawyer.org, went up Monday in response to er President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travelers and immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.

The site collects information about the traveler and sends it to volunteer lawyers near airports who can greet the traveler’s plane and monitor the situation.

“It doesn’t hurt to let (Border Protection) know there’s an eye on what they’re doing,” said Tacoma immigration lawyer Greg McLawsen, who helped create the website.

Trump’s travel ban suspended entry of all refugees for 120 days and barred refugees from Syria indefinitely. It also prohibited citizens from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan from entering the U.S. for 90 days.

After the ban went into effect with no warning, chaos erupted at airports as people tried to reach family members stuck in Customs.

Volunteer lawyers went to airports to offer their services, but it proved difficult to connect with those affected.

Some lawyers held up signs offering free legal advice. Others randomly approached people in airports and asked if they had a loved one arriving from one of the seven countries.

“It makes such a difference to people to know that we are there to help them and we’re able to give them information,” volunteer attorney Takao Yamada told The Seattle Times.

The site was built by local attorneys and New York legal software company, Neota Logic.

It collects basic information about the traveler, such as flight time and the type of visa held.

It then securely sends the data to volunteer lawyers who can log onto the site to review the case. That gives them the possibility of coordinating with immigrants before the flight or meeting them at the airport.

The website is available for immigrants flying into Sea-Tac Airport, Denver International Airport, Baltimore/Washington International Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.

Volunteers plan to roll out the technology at all major airports, but don’t yet have a time line for when that will happen.

“The very best possible outcome is this is a complete waste of time because everybody gets into the country without incident and they don’t need a lawyer,” McLawsen said.

The ban was halted with an emergency ruling by U.S. District Judge James Robart, allowing families a window to scramble and get their loved ones back into the country.

The Trump administration appealed the ruling. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday and said it will announce a decision as soon as possible.

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653

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