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JFK airport volunteer attorneys continue to help travel ban cases

Walid Alhadai, a U.S. citizen from Yemen, is

Walid Alhadai, a U.S. citizen from Yemen, is reunited with his sons Ala (9) and Mohammed (20) at JFK Airport Terminal 8 on Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017. Alhadai has not seen his family in two years. Credit: Steven Sunshine

Volunteer lawyers at Kennedy International Airport’s Terminal 4 regrouped on Sunday after two federal court rulings halted President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“We’re shifting into the next phase,” said Camille Mackler, an attorney with the New York Immigration Coalition, the organization that has coordinated weeklong efforts to provide free lawyers for travelers affected by the ban.

The legal back and forth between Trump and the judicial branch over his executive order issued Jan. 27 has the organization gearing up for future battles, Mackler said. Over the past week, the volunteer lawyers have assisted 220 families, she said.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco on Sunday denied the Justice Department’s request for an immediate reinstatement of the ban on accepting travelers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, and all refugees.

The Trump administration had appealed a temporary order restraining the ban nationwide, saying that a federal judge in Seattle overreached by “second-guessing” the president on a matter of national security.

The appeals court’s denial of an immediate stay means the legal fight over the ban will continue for days at least. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco asked challengers of the ban to respond by early Monday, and for the Justice Department to file a counter-response by the evening.

At Kennedy on Sunday, about 15 volunteer lawyers were sitting at tables in an ad hoc legal aid center in Terminal 4 while about 15 more volunteers were spread throughout the airport meeting scheduled flights at the request of concerned family members, Mackler said. Volunteers held signs at the Terminal 4 arrival area in English and Arabic offering legal aid to travelers.

Terminal 8 became a scene of tearful reunions Sunday for Yemeni families affected by the ban.

Bronx resident Walid Alhadai, 39, a hotel manager, watched the arrivals monitor anxiously for a Qatar Airways flight from Doha scheduled to arrive at 2:15 p.m. His wife and their two sons and two daughters had been turned away from their flight to the United States a week earlier on the day the ban took effect. He said he and his youngest son are American citizens but the rest of his family is not and had planned to come on already-issued immigrant visas.

“They don’t speak English, they don’t know what’s going on,” Alhadai said.

When a federal judge on Friday lifted the ban, he immediately booked new tickets for the family so they wouldn’t get stuck again if the ban is reinstated.

Trump’s order hadn’t shaken his confidence in his adopted home country.

“We love America,” Alhadai said. “It’s the freedom country. I’ve been here almost 20 years, working hard.”

About an hour later, Alhadai rushed to the door to hug and kiss his family as they walked out.

“I can’t talk because I’m too happy,” a teary Alhadai said as he left the terminal with his wife, daughters and sons whose ages ranged from 9 to 20.

Travel agent Jameel Jamal from the Bronx webcast the arrivals live on Facebook to show his customers that people were getting into the country. He said he had booked 25 passengers from Yemen on that flight. He said none of the passengers he booked had reported any problems from U.S. authorities. “Nobody complained about anything,” Jamal said.

The volunteer attorneys are still preparing for a long effort.

“We think we’re going to have to do this rapid response for the next four years,” Mackler said. “Everyone’s nervous.”

Renée Paradis, who has a private practice in Brooklyn, said she is working at the airport with two Iraqis who were affected by the ban. One is a 24-year-old woman who Paradis said spent two years waiting for a visa to join her husband, an American citizen, in the United States. The woman, who went to Jordan as a refugee, received her visa and was about to come to the country when the travel ban went into effect. She was not allowed to board a New York-bound plane in Amman. She’s going to try again, traveling with American citizen family members, before the window shuts again, Paradis said.

“We hope they get into the air while the temporary restraining order is in effect,” Paradis said.

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