Katz praises pro bono attorneys who helped detained travelers at JFK

Attorneys continue their pro bono work on behalf of detainees at Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport.
Photo by Bill Parry
By Bill Parry

The number of attorneys helping detained travelers at JFK’s Terminal 4 had dwindled to about 20 by midweek, but the numbers of individuals needing guidance grew from the original 41 held after President Donald Trump issued his executive order barring entry to refugees and visa holders from seven majority-Muslim nations.

A steady stream of elected officials made their way through thousands of protesters outside Terminal 4 last weekend to offer their support to the scores of volunteer lawyers who dropped everything and raced to help those who were detained last weekend. The lawyers offered free advice and help to the families of the travelers, some of whom were held for more than 30 hours.

“I commend the attorneys and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit who spent the last three days in JFK Terminals 1, 4 and 7 identifying families of the detained and challenging the President’s Executive Order through lawsuits and restraining orders for individuals who had all the necessary documentation to enter the United States,” Borough President Melinda Katz said after visiting with the lawyers Sunday. “I was in close contact throughout the past three days with congressional colleagues to assist the lawyers and families in anyway possible.”

A semblance of normalcy had returned to Terminal 4 by Monday morning. The only signs of the protesters were some anti-Trump graffiti and stickers on the sidewalk saying “We Are all Muslim,” while the group of volunteer attorneys continued their advocacy work inside.

“Forty-one have been released, two were deported and there is one who still may be in custody, but we’re not sure because there is no communication with the government,” said Camille Mackler, New York Immigration Coalition director of Legal Initiatives. “Our numbers are based on our lawyers at each of the terminals and their dealings with the families of the detainees. We’re still looking at flights from the Middle East and Europe to see if there are anymore. We’ll be here for the forseeable future.”

Mackler, an attorney from Brooklyn, became the coordinator of dozens of lawyers who flocked to the terminal over the weekend to volunteer their services to the detained from a makeshift compound outside the Central Diner filled with laptop computers, fax machines and plenty of used coffee cups. Queens native Roman Zelichenko, who did not want to disclose his neighborhood for “fear of being stalked,” joined the others in the lawyer’s war room Sunday after following a law school colleague’s posts on social media.

“The volunteers keep coming in even after all the initially detained had been processed,” Zelichenko said. “We’ve created an infrastructure here so if something happens again on short notice we’ll know what to do.”

By Tuesday, Mackler and her team of pro bono attorneys from different firms and non-profits had helped 71 individuals from 20 different countries, including Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan. France, Algeria, China and Malaysia.

“This ban clearly affects more than just the seven targeted countries,” Mackler said. “And the turmoil inflicted by this sudden disruption is spilling over into the broader United States, as family members desperately seek to reunite with their loved ones. Students and professionals continue to be blocked from their homes, schools and workplaces. We have been here since the ban was imposed, advocating for those caught in the dragnet. We are especially concerned with individuals being prevented from boarding flights at points of departure.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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