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Fly to US immediately, relieved legal volunteers recommend


Jubilant lawyers at New York’s leading airport on Saturday urged visa holders from seven predominantly Muslim countries to fly to the United States immediately while Donald Trump’s travel ban remains in tatters.

Volunteers manning a crisis-management headquarters behind a diner at John F. Kennedy International Airport breathed a collective sigh of relief on Saturday, delighted that one week after the explosive order came into effect a federal judge in Seattle had suspended it.

Renee Paradis, 39, who has a solo practice in New York and worked on Senator Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential bid last year, said the sense of happiness contrasted sharply with the gloom of a week earlier over deportations.

“It was just incredibly chaotic and stressful and really worrisome and just heartbreaking,” she said, recalling one woman who was saved only when her plane turned back after a judge issued a temporary stay.

“Today is definitely a better Saturday,” she said. “It’s definitely more excited and jubilant that we’re actually going to hopefully see some folks coming in who haven’t been able to come in before.”

Paradis, the on-site coordinator for the day and working her fourth shift, said the group based at Terminal 4 had assisted at least 199 families over the past week.

But while the team began the day optimistic that affected travelers would soon arrive, by sundown there had been only anecdotal reports of arrivals, with more expected on Sunday.

Confusion also lingered as authorities digested the ramifications both of the federal judge’s ruling suspending the presidential order and of the White House’s vow that the Justice Department would challenge the decision.

AFP / Bryan R. Smith
A volunteer holds up a sign asking if anyone needs a lawyer at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4, on hand to work with people that may have been detained from the seven countries under President Donald Trump’s Executive Order February 4, 2017

At least one person bound for New York was prevented from boarding by an airline, said Paradis. Seventeen or 18 others did make it through Logan airport in Boston, she said.

One was a female graduate student studying in New York. State Governor Andrew Cuomo said that a four-month-old Iranian baby and her family had been given clearance for the infant to undergo heart surgery.

– Lingering confusion –

It was unclear what would happen to people whose visas had been canceled. Some volunteers said they expected many travelers to wait a few days for greater certainty before purchasing expensive tickets.

But with the president vowing to appeal the Seattle judge’s ruling, activists urged visa holders and refugees to act immediately.

“They should move quickly and come as soon as they can and reach out” to the volunteer lawyers group, Paradis said. “We will do what we can to make sure that they land and get to where they need to be.”

It was a message of urgency repeated by other groups working to help travelers from the seven affected countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

“We encourage all US visa holders who have been affected by the order to travel to the United States as soon as possible,” said Becca Heller, director of the International Refugee Assistance Project.

AFP / Bryan R. Smith
Abdullah Yonous of Brooklyn, volunteering as a translator, holds a sign asking if people have been detained and if they need a lawyer at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 February 4, 2017

Clare Kane, a student intern at the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School, said in a statement that her group had been in contact with hundreds of people impacted by the ban.

“The Trump administration has said they will appeal the judge’s ruling — so people should get on planes as soon as possible,” she said.

Back at JFK, one New Yorker, film studies professor Lindley Hanlon, donned a home-made Statue of Liberty costume and staked out Terminal 4 to greet those arriving to the symbol of US immigration and freedom.

“We still represent those values, and many, many people in this country do,” she told AFP, draped in a shower curtain, wearing a plastic crown and holding a sign saying “Liberty and Justice for All.”

“I’m hopeful but I’m sure it’ll be legal tango for a long time,” she said of the suspension. Halfway through the afternoon, after spending long hours on her feet, she called it a day.