Lawyers and translators around the United States are still working to help immigrants and refugees coming into the country as several states including Washington, New York, and most recently California issue a stay on Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration.
A few days ago, a Kurdish family traveling to Nashville was sent back to Iraq because of the current travel ban that singles out seven Muslim majority countries. On February 1, a Bangladeshi student was detained after landing at JFK. A lawyer has currently taken on his case.
Volunteers working with the NoBanJFK group in Terminal 4 at JFK continue to offer 24-hour legal service and advice and translators for incoming individuals who are subject to the restrictive immigration ban. Lawyers and translators had filled up the food court on the lower level of the airport, with their laptops pulled out and sandwiches and fries at hand as they tirelessly offer to protect the rights of immigrants and refugees. A few stood near the arrival gates holding up signs in different languages beckoning people to come seek help from the lawyers and translators if they faced issues.
Nausheen Akter, a Bangladeshi American teacher, zipped through the crowd of volunteers, a flash of her purple hijab seen attending to new faces who wanted to help those victimized by the ban. “I’m a volunteer coordinator” she stated when asked about her role as part of the NoBanJFK group. “I got training as a coordinator which is basically to oversee who is coming in and is being sent out. We need lawyers there, we need translators there. We need people working at various stations, whether it’s taking in in-take forms for specific individuals or managing social media or working on their Habeas. I’m here to help everyone find their place and make sure we have the right services,” she explained.
Nausheen felt she needed to be at JFK and help because she was also an immigrant. She continued saying, “I’ve been looking for ways to get involved beyond protesting and helping people in a direct way. I heard there were translators needed at JFK so I came. I knew I wanted to do something on the ground and going forward I know that being politically active is also something we need to be conscious of.”
A young man stood near the arrival gates holding up a sign urging people to speak with the hub of NoBanJFK volunteers in the terminal. Akhtar Qureshi a 27-year-old lawyer, when asked what brought him to provide legal services at the airport he pondered briefly and replied, “These types of situations require people to step up and do whatever is in their means to serve society. I’m fortunate and blessed to be a lawyer and I know that, that skill set is something that can be used here. I wanted to put that into good use and come here today.”
According to NoBanJFK’s twitter page, the group has assisted over 100 people coming into the United States from Muslim majority countries. Even though the group has come across a few successful cases and the federal court for the Eastern District of New York issued a stay on the executive order concerning immigration, volunteers feel there is more to do.
Hallam Tuck, who works for the New York Immigration Coalition, points out that NoBanJFK is still operating at the airport to make sure the stay is being observed. “There’s a lot of thinking going on right now about how we move this forward from an advocacy perspective. I think it’s very important to build on the momentum that has been created both through this project [NoBanJFK] and the myriads of actions and protests that have gone on in the past weeks,” he replied surely.
Nausheen felt relieved when New York stayed the immigration order and she added, “It felt like we can take a breath and go forward.” When discussing the success they’ve had so far with client cases, she stated, “Anyone who is being detained isn’t getting help at that point unless there’s a relative who can help them. Anyone who is coming in and reaching out to a lawyer is starting the process of representation. That’s a process that is going to take a while.” However, she felt “anyone who is getting help from us is a success”.
Even with the amount of work lawyers and translators are faced with in JFK, Akter feels hopeful about the current situation. “I think it’s beautiful that a lot of people, my friends who are attorneys and non-attorneys have expressed an interest in helping out in whatever way possible.” Hallam feels the same as he said “one of the things that definitely lifted peoples spirits here is the willingness of a diverse group of people, private law companies, and community to get together and fight the ban in whatever way possible.”