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Fighting the Travel Ban

When the Trump administration issued a ban on individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, lawyers from all over the country mobilized to fight it.

Rollout

Donald Trump signed Executive Order 13769, also known as the Travel Ban, on Friday, January 27, 2017. The order cut the total number of refugees entering the country in 2017 by more than half – from 110,000 to 50,000 – halted the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for a period of 120 days so vetting standards could be assessed and revised, and placed a permanent hold on any Syrian refugees from entering the country. The ban affected those from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia.

The ban’s rollout was problematic to say the least. The executive order was signed on a Friday, which meant that information was difficult for officials to obtain over the weekend. Legal residents traveling outside the country when the ban went into effect found that they could not gain reentry. Customs and Border Protection officials were detaining individuals who had done nothing wrong. Families were separated. Those seeking urgent medical care were unable to receive it.

Fighting Back

The backlash was immediate and nationwide. Thousands showed up at airports all over the country to protest the administration’s actions. Attorneys volunteered to help those who were being wrongfully detained. In Dallas, Chris Hamilton was at the forefront of this effort. Together with attorney Lisa Blue, he pledged $100,000 to support a war room of about 150 attorneys that formed in a conference room at the Grand Hyatt hotel at DFW International Airport. Once assembled, they got to work.

Progress was slow. Because officials across the country were still struggling to interpret the administration’s new rules, solid information was hard to come by. Much of what Hamilton learned came from travelers at the airport and their families. Other officials spoke off the record. He learned that about 30 people were being held, although no official number was given. Travelers were being asked questions about their religion, and in some cases CBP officers were attempting to gain access to their social media accounts. Hamilton and the attorneys he worked with filed petitions asking that these individuals immediately be released.

Mission Accomplished

Their hard work paid off. On Wednesday, February 1, Hamilton took to social media to make the announcement. In a short video, he said, “We have verified today that folks are no longer being detained at DFW Airport since about noon today.”

On February 3, District Judge James Robart issued a ruling in the case of Washington v Trump, which blocked large portions of the order. The next day, the Department of Homeland Security announced that the order would no longer be enforced. While that didn’t mark the end of the administration’s efforts to reinstate the ban, or the legal challenges against it, it’s thanks to the hard work of Hamilton and the other attorneys who volunteered that those in need of help received it so quickly.